The Reptarium in Utica is expanding to include a 30,000-square-foot building on Van Dyke Avenue that will serve as the LegaSea Aquarium.  Exhibits are under construction during a visit to the facility in mid-November.

The Reptarium in Utica is expanding to include a 30,000-square-foot building on Van Dyke Avenue that will serve as the LegaSea Aquarium. Exhibits are under construction during a visit to the facility in mid-November.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Utica Reptarium expanding to include 30,000-square-foot LegaSea Aquarium

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby-Utica News | Published December 4, 2023

 Guests will pass over bridges and a koi pond to enter the LegaSea Aquarium.

Guests will pass over bridges and a koi pond to enter the LegaSea Aquarium.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


UTICA — The Reptarium is expanding to a building just across the street with an additional 30,000 square feet on Van Dyke Avenue in Utica.

The new facility, called the LegaSea Aquarium, will add to the Van Dyke corridor and bring many visitors to the region from all over. The LegaSea Aquarium is located at 45550 Van Dyke Ave.

Tyler Kranak — the general manager for the LegaSea Aquarium and Reptarium who oversees all aspects of the facility from animal husbandry, staffing, hiring, human resources, guest services and community outreach — was brought on after Barczyk was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. 

“Many people hear the news of terminal illness and roll over, give up or lose hope, but not Brian. Brian is the single most motivated, inspired and hardest working man I have ever met, and Brian never let the diagnosis define him,” Kranak said. “Brian has, for 35 years, worked in the animal industry as a snake breeder with his company BHB reptiles (BHB is named after Brian’s initials, Brian Henry Barczyk) founded by him and his wife, Lori Barczyk. In 2018, they opened their first ever reptile zoo, The Reptarium, as a way of getting out of the pet trade and snake breeding business and give more to the education of these animals rather than their sale.”

He said business has been booming ever since, with a massive expansion in early 2020 that more than doubled the footprint of the Reptarium. The expansion added new exhibits including a massive anaconda enclosure, a gift shop, a two-toed sloth and a dedicated area for hosting birthday parties and private events.

“Brian didn’t stop there, though, and continued to follow his lifelong dream of opening an aquarium. The problem however, was that we were out of room in our current 5,000-square-foot zoo. Many ideas were pitched back and forth, one of which included adding a second floor to the Reptarium (this idea was quickly scrapped, which is for the best) until a large building across the street suddenly came up on the market. As of now, we have exceeded our budget of $5 million, but are rapidly approaching an opening date of early February,” he said.

The building was originally a grocery store, traded hands several times over the last few decades and was a thrift store for many years. Now, the building is in the process of being completely gutted to create the LegaSea Aquarium and Reptarium. The building’s front wall was demolished and expanded nearly 25 feet forward, bringing the square footage to just over 30,000 square feet, with a wall of windows and an ocean-sunset-inspired façade added, plus a koi pond and bridges that guests pass over to enter and exit.

“Some key attractions we are excited to bring to LegaSea for visitors to see and experience include our incredibly playful capybara Javier, our full-of-attitude African crested porcupine Sid, our baby two-toed sloth Lilo and our very mischievous binturong Stitch,” he said.

It’s not all mammals; they also have a nearly 6-foot-long arapaima that will live in the freshwater predator aquarium, and Monocentropus balfouri, one of the only species of tarantula that live in groups containing dozens of individual tarantulas. Native to Yemen, these tarantulas have powerful venom.

They also will have an interactive brackish mangrove aquarium with archer fish, which is a species of fish that shoots a stream of water up to 10 feet to knock insects into the water. Guests will get to hold food in their hands, on their heads or on sticks for the fish to shoot.

Other attractions will include a huge, 18,000-gallon saltwater reef aquarium and a large interactive exhibit with nearly 40 baby American alligators that guests will be able to handle and feed.

“All of these incredible animals are not only amazing displays, but interactive as well! Some are limited to only petting or feeding, but others can be fully hands on! Guests can view literal one-of-a-kind animals that no other zoo in the world has, and many of them they can reach out and touch. Where else in Michigan (or anywhere!) can you swim with stingrays, touch a two-headed turtle, hold a massive python, feed an arapaima and play with a capybara all in one place,” Kranak said.

Chelsea Nolen, the assistant general manager at LegaSea Aquarium and Reptarium, said it will be like a huge adventure though the aquarium.

“Embark on an immersive aquatic and reptilian adventure. Our upcoming interactive aquarium and reptile zoo promises a captivating experience where nature comes to life. Dive into a world of wonders as we prepare to unveil this unique attraction, blending education and excitement for all ages,” she said.

Mike Wilson, the head reptile keeper at the LegaSea Aquarium and Reptarium, said the LegaSea Aquarium will be the ultimate destination for people of all ages to come and interact with exotic animals from around the world. 

“We do things very different than your normal zoo and aquariums, we offer tons of hands-on interactions with 90% of our animals that we have now, and so much more to come when the aquarium opens. Me, as the head keeper, I am very excited to be a part of something as cool and unique as it will be when opened,” he said.

He said they are all very excited to meet thousands of new guests and all the new animals they will be displaying and interacting with.

“Me, personally, I don’t know very much about fish or marine life, so getting to learn about these amazing creatures is an opportunity of a lifetime. I am also very excited to expand my team on all sides of the spectrum from the keepers, marine team and our education team. It will be the next big thing and a legacy of Brian and Lori Barczyk,” said Wilson.