South Georgia's newest jewel is on display - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

South Georgia's newest jewel is on display

September 3, 2004

Albany-- After a decade of planning, two years of construction, and $25 million, the Flint Riverquarium is finally ready to open for business.

So what will you see when you walk through the doors?

You're welcomed into the Riverquarium with a panoramic view overlooking the centerpiece Blue Hole, a sign of what's to come. "The general comment I typically get is 'I just can't believe we have something of this quality in Albany, Georgia,'" said Riverquarium Director Doug Noble.

Walk down this hallway and you'll get unique views of fish you've no doubt seen before. "Large mouth bass, crappie, a couple of the big sunfish," Noble said.

And you'll see some native Georgia fish that are pretty unusual. "The little guys with the funny wing is called a sea robin, and there are several of those in there."

Interactive exhibits teach you about the Flint River basin and other Georgia waterways. "Then it has a little quiz, you can try to answer it."

And games show you the importance of protecting water resources. "You run around trying to save as much water as you can." Then, as if you were a cave diver, you can move on beneath the Blue Hole, a 175,000 gallon tank filled with a thousand fish and aquatic animals. "What we're looking at is a simulated cavern underneath with 68-degree water coming out of the aquifer," said Noble.

You'll also learn about important rivers around the world and see piranha from the Amazon and these odd guys from the Ganges. "Water is pretty much a global issue," said Noble.

Even so, it's up to each of us on a local level to protect our water. “If just one visit here keeps somebody from going out there and treating the river like a garbage can and throwing their Styrofoam cup or empty beer can into the river then that's a major step forward," Noble says.

And the Flint Riverquarium is a major step forward in the development of Albany. The Riverquarium is now the crown jewel of downtown, but it's just one part of a huge ongoing development plan.

Albany Tomorrow Incorporated was formed in 1995 to oversee that redevelopment. ATI came up with a $210 million master plan that includes 33 projects. Eleven of them now are finished or underway. They include the government complex and parking garages with retail space, a new law enforcement center, Riverfront Park, a Hilton Hotel and conference center, and of course, the Riverquarium.

"All of those things together have slowly changed the attitudes of people around Albany about what downtown is and what downtown can be,” said ATI CEO Tommy Chatmon. So, the biggest change is the attitude of the citizens toward downtown. I think there is some optimism now and actually some momentum." 

 Chatmon hopes to private developers will bring more retail, entertainment, and residential development downtown. But he says those components are picking up.

The Flint Riverquarium isn't the only educational attraction downtown. The Mt. Zion Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum tells the story of the impact of the southwest Georgia movement on the rest of the world. The director hopes the redevelopment of downtown and the Riverquarium will help the museum grow and spread its message. "It's gonna bring a lot of diverse people who are coming for a lot of different things, so it's gonna help a lot of the businesses and cultural institutions around in that area."

Thronateeska Heritage Center has been located at the old train depot downtown for 20-years. It includes a history museum, planetarium, and discovery center. The Riverquarium will cross-promote with those and other attractions around Albany.

posted at 2:20PM by dave.miller@walb.com