Thursday, February 02, 2006

Aquarium at the Port of Rochester: Don't Get Your Hopes Up

Yesterday the local media latched onto an announcement that a Great Lakes research center (to be known as the Lake Ontario Natural Resource Center) affiliated with SUNY-Brockport would be built at the Port of Rochester. The sexy aspect of the announcement was an aquarium that would be incorporated into the facility to showcase the aquatic life of Lake Ontario and presumably the other Great Lakes. Naturally, when they heard that an aquarium would be built at the Port, local residents and business owners got excited. Admittedly, I too got butterflies when I thought of a gleaming new aquarium adjacent to the Ferry Terminal. But at some point, reality reared its ugly head in the form of the reported price tag for this facility - $7 million.

The media, IMHO, is doing a disservice to the community by mentioning that an "aquarium" would be part of this research center. The fact is, for $7 million, we're likely to get a fishtank full of zebra mussels next to a Coke machine in the lobby of the building (see above picture). We shouldn't kid ourselves -- this will NOT be a tourist attraction. First of all, we'd need at least 10 times that amount to build an aquarium of even modest proportions. The newly-opened Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, the largest in the world, cost $200 million (see picture below). Secondly, who the heck is going to pay admission to look at lake trout and salmon? The New Jersey State Aquarium (now known as Adventure Aquarium) was built to showcase aquatic life native to the Garden State and nearly went bankrupt because people weren't intrigued by grey/brown fish. It cost them $52 million to construct a worthless facility that had to be renovated and refocused, for many millions more, only a year after its grand opening.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't support the development of this research center, which will likely provide jobs and spur additional investment at the Port. What I am saying is that the facility shouldn't be promoted as being/having an "aquarium" because that word conjurs up images of the National Aquarium and Inner Harbor in Baltimore or the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. Sure enough, News 10NBC already found someone thinking that way: "John Fay wonders if the city will back a proposed environmental research center on the property. “I can almost visualize something like Baltimore Harbor where they've got the huge aquarium and all that,” Fay said."

Call it an "Institute", call it a "Museum", but don't lead local residents on - haven't we done that enough at the Port already?