AZ Central – July 21st. Penguins, otters, sea lions and more than 500 other species of marine life will soon find a home in the Arizona desert as the OdySea Aquarium prepares to open in September along Loop 101 near Scottsdale.

The 2 million-gallon aquarium, which will cost more than $100 million, will be among the largest in the nation, surpassing major aquariums in Houston, Seattle, San Francisco and New Orleans.

Odysea Aquarium developer Amram Knishinsky discusses what will be the largest aquarium in the Southwestern United States, which is set to open around Labor Day 2016. David Wallace/ The Republic

The privately-owned, for-profit aquarium hopes to open around Labor Day, developer Amram Knishinsky told The Republic during an exclusive tour of the facility July 18. Construction crews are busily sculpting the aquarium’s touch pools and flooding tanks with water.

“We are the largest metropolitan area in America without a big aquarium,” said Knishinsky, who has lived in the Valley for 40 years. “We deserve to have an aquarium in the desert, where we don’t have access to water and these species. The people here deserve to learn about marine life like every other part of the country.”

OdySea Aquarium will be part of a larger entertainment complex called OdySea in the Desert, which will feature several anchor attractions around a ring of international shops and restaurants. Other attractions include Butterfly Wonderland and Dolphinaris, which has stirred controversy for its plans to bring captive dolphins to the desert. Dolphinaris is a separately owned company that is a tenant in the complex, which is controlled by OdySea.

There are two smaller aquariums in the Phoenix area: SeaLife Aquarium at Arizona Mills mall in Tempe and Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium in the West Valley. SeaLife is about 26,000 square feet, and Wildlife World Zoo’s aquarium holds about 225,000 gallons.

OdySea Aquarium, located at Via de Ventura and Loop 101 on the Salt River Reservation east of Scottsdale, will be comparable in size to California’s famed Monterey Bay Aquarium, the National Aquarium in Baltimore and Adventure Aquarium in Camden, N.J., which serves Greater Philadelphia.