Brian Barczyk, the owner of interactive reptile zoo The Reptarium, was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in earlier this year. Now he’s hoping to fulfill his dream of opening The LegaSea Aquarium — a family-friendly space for people to interact with animals and share the love for animals — by the end of 2023, and is currently raising money for construction.
Barczyk, reptile expert and social media personality, says his “life’s mission is to get people to love wildlife.” Open for 5 years, The Reptarium in Utica has stood alone as the only interactive reptile zoo of its kind.
“I think that’s the difference,” Barczyk says. “[At The Reptarium,] you’re not just going and looking at something behind the glass.”
Just across the street, The LegaSea Aquarium is under development, with plans to engage the public on an even bigger scale.
The plan for the aquarium was actually born 20 years ago, but Barczyk says it was all “baby steps.” Opening The Reptarium gave the team confidence to expand, and when the building across the street went up for sale, Barczyk knew it was time to take a chance on his lifelong dream of building an aquarium.
“That was the solidification of, you know, ‘we’re doing this,’” he says
The LegaSea Aquarium will be a space for public engagement with all kinds of aquatic life such as sharks, a variety of fish, reptiles, and of course, multiple opportunities to interact directly with animals including touch tanks, feeding opportunities, ray petting, and more. When it’s complete, many of the animals currently in The Reptarium will move across the street to aquarium.
“We want to be the Disney of animals” says Barczyk. “When you go to Disney, it’s about the experience … there’s something special about it.”
With an open floorplan that includes viewing areas and a gift shop, customers will have the power to seek whatever piques their interest most and learn as much as they can on the way.
We are creating a “new generation of aquariums…which [sic] is more interactive. We want to keep people’s hands wet from the time they walk through the door to the time they leave,” Barczyk adds.
With The Reptarium and LegaSEA Aquarium, Barcyzk hopes to inspire children to not only interact with wildlife but develop a love and appreciation for the environment. The root of his vision is engaging young people with the hopes of them falling in love by providing them with a learning opportunity and a chance to engage with things they have never seen before.
And with the help of his incredible staff, Barczyk’s dream is coming to life with each passing week. He says he “couldn’t think of a better way to move forward than to have the aquarium and The Reptarium together.”
“Whether I’m here or not, I always want that to be the big picture and to be the legacy that draws people into an experience and [encourages] a love of wildlife and the environment,” says Barczyk. “It’s just very special [and I] an’t wait until that first drop of water goes in…it’s going to be amazing.”
The LegaSea Aquarium is set to open by the end of 2023. You can support Brian, his plan, and the team by visiting The Reptarium, donating to the GoFundMe, checking him out on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, and, of course, by visiting The LegaSea Aquarium when it’s open!