RiverQuarium leaders look towards future - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

RiverQuarium leaders look towards future

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June 13, 2007

Albany--  It's been nearly three years since Albany's Flint RiverQuarium opened its doors. Could those doors close? Riverquarium leaders say that could happen if they don't increase revenue and get public funding. They're not giving up though.

One of Albany's premier attractions has been swimming along for nearly three years. New Flint Riverquarium CEO Scott Loehr only recently jumped on board.

"Met my expectations, exceeded some others," said Loehr.

Loehr went straight to work but says funding has been a challenge. He recently requested $250,000 from Dougherty County commissioners. That request was denied.

"The request was made to the county because there's a very critical need for operating funds," said Loehr.

Dwindling finances have already caused them to make cuts over the past several months. "The Riverquarium has reduced it's expenses by more than $150,000 and that has included some staff reorganization," said Loehr.

But there is good news. Attendance has been steady.  There were more than 36,000 visitors between January and May. Summer visitors and summer camps give attendance a boost.

"We have one session starting Monday June 18th and it's completely filled," said Melissa Martin.

It's one of Education Manager Melissa Martin's jobs to get those visitors to keep coming back. She has to give them a reason to.

"We do have our permanent exhibits here in the main aquarium but we're always getting new animals in and we always have new changes even within our permanent exhibits," said Martin.

Frequent visitation keeps money coming in. Loehr says they not only need support of visitors. They also need continued support from local government. "Anymore cutting of expenses means we're jeopardizing the mission of this organization," said Loehr.

Without funding and growing revenue, the walls just won't stand. "If funding decreases, then programs start to go away, staff is impacted, morale certainly begins to take a turn for the worse and ultimately heaven forbid, the probability increases of having to close the facility," said Loehr.

That's not an option they want to consider so they'll do what they can to stay afloat.

Loehr says financial support from local government would help balance the budget and attract more private investors. He says for now the aquarium will work hard to sustain itself through more partners, grants, gifts, memberships and an increasing attendance numbers.

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