4:00pm | The Long Beach Redevelopment Agency today approved a plan that allows the Harbor Department to pay $5.9 million toward the City’s debt on the Aquarium of the Pacific, according to the Press-Telegram.

The vote is notable because the aquarium, which vowed to be profitable by this time when it opened in 1998, has its debts paid off by the City of Long Beach each year. However, with the city in a massive $18.5 million deficit, the RDA has stepped in for the second straight year to ease the burden.

But the RDA essentially voted to have the Port of Long Beach pay. On this point, P-T reporter Karen Robes Meeks explains it best:

The deal allows the Harbor Department to pay the city’s debt on the Aquarium through taxes collected on upcoming port development and frees up the city’s struggling general fund, which is running a projected $18.5 million deficit for fiscal year 2011.

But the board majority only agreed to support the reimbursement if the source of that reimbursement came only from the port.

The original recommendation had been that the remaining debt would be repaid by the entire North Long Beach Redevelopment Project area if the reimbursement amount is not fully repaid by 2027, when the redevelopment project area expires.

That was a source of contention for several North Long Beach residents, who feared that paying back the debt with funds outside the port would infringe on money meant for much-needed improvement projects in North Long Beach. They added that the purpose of redevelopment funding is to remove blight and improve neighborhoods.

The city acquired ownership of the land and property in 2001, along with its $130 million debt that is due by 2030. The aquarium contributes $3.5 million annually. According to the P-T, the debt total now stands at $117.8 million.

The aquarium will come before the City Council tomorrow with plans to build a $50 million expansion by 2015, which includes 230,000 feet of new space with a two-story wing and 350-seat theater. There will also be improvements to the lobby, ticket booth and gift shop. The city must change zoning laws to allow the expansion and the plan needs to be approved by the Coastal Commission as well.