OFF KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Gary Levine is headed into uncharted waters. He’s a businessman who's made millions in computers and again in aviation.
His newest plan off the coast of South Florida might seem like an easy-to-dismiss kooky idea. Except for the fact that Levine's put up an undisclosed portion of his own fortune to build an artificial reef -- the world's largest.
But here's the twist: Levine plans to charge $995 to inter cremated remains of the dearly departed.
"We're not a cemetery,” he said. “We're a memorial. And it's a memorial city 900 feet in diameter of artistic creativity, with 40 theme areas and 40 sculptures."
Dubbed Atlantis, the Lost City, Levine says it's an alternative to tradition.
CNBC: So we're right over the spot now?
LEVINE: We're over it now.
CNBC: Go ahead. Give the sales pitch. Why do I want to be buried here?
LEVINE: You're a perfect candidate for me.
LEVINE: You're a diver. You like the water.
CNBC: And so you're ready-made market in your mind is ... baby boomers?
LEVINE: Baby boomers.
LEVINE: Because there are 50,000 people a week who die in the United States.
CNBC: And baby boomers are looking for something different?
LEVINE: Very different. And money's not the question mark.
Atlantis is already under construction. Artist Kim Brandell, whose works include the globe outside the Trump Tower on Columbus Circle in Manhattan, is building each piece of sculpture with a spot to place cremated remains.
"It's like they say, ashes to ashes, earth to earth,” he said. “Your ashes instead of being scattered at sea, which has been done for hundreds and hundreds of years, you are going to be somewhere where somebody can come visit you. And you're name is right there.”
Harry Tellam is the first customer.
"I try not to think about it,” he said. “But I'm 78 years old, and I guess the inevitable is going to come along."
Harry's a well-known sport fisherman who wants to wind up where he spent most of life.
“The idea of having a place like this to be spend the rest of eternity just seemed to be a good idea," he said.
It’s an idea that, like so many, required government approval.
CNBC: Who in the government? What agencies did you have to hit?
LEVINE: The most important was the Army Corps of Engineers.
LEVINE: The Department of Environmental Resource Management.
LEVINE: The Department of Environmental Protection.
LEVINE: South Atlantic Fisheries Council.
LEVINE: NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)
CNBC: Any more?
LEVINE: Coastal Management, Endangered Species, Florida Fish and Wildlife.
An artificial reef and resting place for up to 80,000 souls at a minimum of $1000. It’s one businessman’s idea of heaven on earth.
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