The company behind the oft-delayed aquarium project planned for the Shops at Rivercenter Mall in downtown San Antonio and the general contractor have had a falling out.
Houston’s Warwick Construction alleges in a lawsuit that New York-based Sea Life Center San Antonio LLC has not paid the aquarium’s now-former general contractor about $976,400 in labor and materials.
Julie Estrada, a spokeswoman for Merlin Entertainments, a U.K. leisure company that partnered with the mall’s owner on the project, responded in an email that Warwick was fired from the job.
“While we cannot speak to any ongoing legal conversations, I can tell you Warwick Construction was terminated from the project earlier this year and a new construction company has been hired to complete necessary repairs from initial construction to ensure the aquarium is safe for the animals, staff and guests as this is our top priority,” she said.
Estrada didn’t say why Warwick was replaced.
Warwick’s lawsuit, filed Wednesday in state District Court in San Antonio, follows the company recording affidavits claiming a mechanic’s and materialman’s lien on the project to secure payment.
“Despite Warwick’s demands, Sea Life has failed and refused, and continues to fail and refuse, to pay for the labor and materials Warwick furnished for the Project,” the contractor says in its complaint.
Warwick seeks to foreclose on the lien and collect what it says it’s owed, plus interest, attorneys’ fees and court costs. It has sued for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, among other claims. Sea Life has not yet filed its answer to the lawsuit.
It’s been more than three years since Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. — the New York real estate investment firm that owns the San Antonio mall — and Merlin Entertainments announced plans to open Sea Life and Legoland Discovery Center at the mall in 2018.
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The Sea Life and Legoland project were slated to occupy about 65,000 square feet in the mall.
Legoland opened in the spring of last year, becoming one of less than a dozen such venues in the United States.
At the time of Legoland’s opening, Sea Life’s debut was rescheduled for the summer of 2019. It was subsequently pushed back to the fall of 2019 and then February.
COVID-19 delayed the opening yet again. Sea Life hopes to make an announcement on a new opening date in a couple of months, Sea Life and Legoland marketing manager Chase Hathaway said Monday.
“As soon as COVID hit, we had to just press pause on all of our activity” Hathaway said of Sea Life. Legoland reopened last month after closing because of the increase in coronavirus cases in San Antonio.
Hathaway described construction of the aquarium in the Shops at Rivercenter as a “complex undertaking.”
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“The actual opening of this involves a wide range of countries, as well,…because of the amount of animals that are coming in,” Hathaway said in explaining the delays. “The fact that it’s a global pandemic has really impacted us a lot more than you’d expect. It’s just really unfortunate timing.”
Sea Life has nearly 50 aquariums throughout the world, according to its website. The San Antonio location will be the second in Texas.
When it’s completed, the aquarium will boast more than 250 species of marine life in 17 tanks, the company has previously said. It will feature a tank with a walk-through underwater tunnel that will give visitors a window to view marine life, including seahorses, sharks, shrimp, starfish and rays.