How will Mega aquarium affect Albany? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

How will Mega aquarium affect Albany?

November 22, 2005

Albany- The new Georgia Aquarium opens Wednesday in Atlanta. It's the world's largest aquarium, holding eight million gallons of water and housing more than 100,000 fish.

But with Atlanta just a few hours north of here, will the new attraction swim away with Albany's customers?

Around 150,000 people visited the Flint Riverquarium during its first year. But during the first few months of year two, visitation is way down.

Now, the Georgia Aquarium is opening and expected to attract as many as two million visitors in its first year. Visitors that might just by-pass Albany's aquarium to catch a bigger fish.

Ralph and Norton are no doubt Atlanta's largest new residents. The two whale sharks are the king of their tank at 16 feet and still growing. "Nothing of this scope size and speed has ever been attempted," said Dr. Howard Krum, Chief of Veterinary Medicine.

Even bigger than the fish, are the expectations for the $200 million Georgia Aquarium, bankrolled almost exclusively by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus. "I said lets build the biggest aquarium in the world as a payback for the people in this state who made me who I am today," said Marcus.

The huge tanks filled with thousands of animals will draw millions of curious eyes - eyes of visitors that may just overlook Albany's year old Flint Riverquarium. "We're not as busy as we would like to be," says Director Doug Noble, who notes a 22% drop in attendance in the second year of business, mainly because of high gas prices.

"Nobody had any control over Katrina and what that did to the gas prices. We saw all of our field trips virtually evaporate in September, October and early November," said Noble.

And gas prices might deter travelers from making a longer trip to Atlanta to check out the new Georgia Aquarium. Noble says the Flint Riverquarium typically draws families from within 80 miles of Albany and won't compete head to head -- or fin to fin with Atlanta.

"So Tallahassee, Columbus, Macon, Georgia - that's kind of our reach. The Atlanta aquarium, if anything, might be a real plus for us. If you think about it, if you get on I-75 on your way to Florida, you can stop and see Chattanooga, Atlanta, our unique aquarium here, and go all the way down to Tampa to see the Florida aquarium."

Noble hopes the state's big fish, so to speak, will only help the Flint Riverquarium. He hopes to one day partner with the world's largest aquarium, sharing it's exhibits, ideas, and visitors.

Noble is banking on new changing exhibits to draw visitors back time after time. By early spring, the Flint Riverquarium, will have anew exhibit called Venom: A painful exciting experience.

It will feature all the venomous snakes of Georgia and will have unique stingy ray petting zoo. We've been told the stingers will be remove first. The Georgia Aquarium is already scooping up the Flint Riverquarium staff, hiring away its chief aquatist. But Director Doug Noble says they're about to hire a replacement.

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