Albany-- September 1st will mark two years since the Flint Riverquarium opened to the public. Reaction was great at the beginning but the attraction soon hit some bumpy waters. The biggest problem was a big decline in attendance. Riverquarium leaders hope to change that.
Workers at The Flint RiverQuarium have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. They're self-sufficient with a budget of about 1.8 million dollars. With no support from state, county, or city government, they rely on steady attendance for growth. Last year's was lagging. This year's shows some promise.
There's only one place in Southwest Georgia to find everything from small sturgeon to big striped bass all under one roof. "That is a big one isn't it?," asks visitor Megan Phillips.
It's enough to keep Megan Phillips entertained. She may have just found herself a favorite attraction at Albany's RiverQuarium.
"The blue hole with all the big fish, it's real neat, got some awesome turtles," says Phillips. It's her first visit here. "Decided to come and check it out. It's really neat. It's really neat," says Phillips.
But the number of excited visitors like Phillips declined last year. "We had a very tough time from the time of Katrina through about the first of March," says Director Doug Noble.
In it's first year, the Flint RiverQuarium saw more than 148,000 visitors. Last year, only 87,000 people walked through the door, a difficult time for the aquarium.
"The impact of fuel costs significantly not only affected school visitation but it also affected our general public visitation," says Noble. However, RiverQuarium Director Doug Noble says things are turning around. They've had a good March and April along with a strong May.
"During that time I think we had about 25,000 visitors," says Noble. But the next big test is the Fall, especially with school now being back in session.
"With school of course starting so early, we've immediately felt the impact of it this week but the good news is, we're getting dozens and dozens of phone calls about booking reservations," says Noble. Reservations for as far away as May of next year is encouraging news. Noble hopes the enthusiasm will spread. "I think there are people who still haven't been down here and sort of shame on them because it really is wonderful," says Noble.
"It's worth coming and checking out," says Phillips.
Checking out the big fish is enough to keep Phillips coming back. "It's got some cool stuff," says Phillips.
More visitors could keep a fairly new Albany attraction swimming upstream and with it's head above water.
Since they've been open nearly two years, Noble says that's enough time for them to be able to study data to know what to expect. They can now look at trends to see when the busiest times of the year are. This year, they're expecting a little more than 100,000 visitors.
The RiverQuarium has some school bookings for as soon as the end of this month. Soon they'll start opening at 9 instead of 10 to handle all the school visits.