RiverQuariam outlook is rosy - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

RiverQuariam outlook is rosy

March 29, 2006

Albany -- After a big lull in attendance, the Flint Riverquarium is finally seeing more visitors.

Attendance has been off since late 2005. So much off, that the downtown attraction even had to lay of three employees.

But more than 8,000 people toured the Riverquarium this March. Even though that's still fewer than a year ago, Director Doug Noble hopes better times are ahead.

"Look at that one Malcolm!" A wide eyed Malcolm Mercer takes in the Flint Riverquarium for the first time.

"He was out on spring break and we were trying to find something to do," said Visitor Derick Mercer. "I said 'Let's got to the Riverquarium' because we haven't gone to an actually aquarium before."

The 18-month-old attraction is seeing a surge of visitors this spring break. "We had a huge weekend, about 750 visitors that includes 70 people for a wedding reception," said Director Doug Noble. "And on Saturday and Sunday, we actually had three birthday parties. So things are really beginning to pick up."

Attendance is picking up after a very slow winter. Noble says high fuel prices stopped school field trips, the attraction's bread and butter. "It's was very tough from September, in the aftermath of Katrina, all the way up to January. Then all of a sudden, we started to see the big turn around." Thanks in part to school's hitting the roads again.

"Ooh, they got some shells," exclaims Malcolm.

Attendance is still down about 15% from last year. It costs $1.8-million a year to run the Riverquarium. They laid of some employees to cut costs, but some expenses can't be control like the $220,000 a year power bill.

"We are going to have to be a little leaner and pick up the slack with other staff members and some part time members," Noble said. The attraction didn't expect to make money for at least three years, but they did expect more visitors than they've been seeing.

But today's big crowd and some good reviews give Noble hope for a brighter summer ahead.

The Riverquarium is also banking on its new venomous snake exhibit to draw larger crowds. It's open May 20th.

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