Downtown "jewel" may last only six more weeks - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Downtown "jewel" may last only six more weeks

June 18, 2007

Albany -- Albany's $31 million Flint RiverQuarium is in big financial trouble and in danger of closing. After being open only two and a half years, the RiverQuarium may have to close its doors if it doesn't receive funding, and soon. And so far the county is not approving the funds.

"The Riverquarium is the crowing jewel," said Convention and Visitors Bureau Vice President Sara Underwood.

A jewel that is apparently losing its luster. Although revenues at the Riverquarium continue to increase, the operating budget exceeds what is brought in. That's why CEO Scott Loehr is asking Dougherty County Commissioners for a quarter-million dollars. If the county can't commit, "The closing will be imminent," says Loehr.

And it won't take long for the Riverquarium to shut down. "Without the money, the RiverQuarium is looking at closing in the next 45 days."

Loehr says he's cut as much as possible. Even eliminating positions, but the RiverQuarium is expensive to operate, as much as $150,000 a month, and he says it may never be able to operate on sales and admissions alone. "Operations like this have to find other partners."

Including public partners, for now. Loehr says if Commissioners step up, it will stabilize the aquarium and keep it afloat. "We fully anticipate that we'll be able to operate this year and in subsequent years in the near tern with Dougherty County's assistance."

As the RiverQuarium helps assist the county by bringing in tourists, and money to the rest of the community. "The RiverQuarium has been the shining example of what's going on in Albany," said Convention and Visitors Bureau Vice President Sara Underdown.

And if it shuts, Sara Underdown, Vice President of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, what will that say about Albany? "If the RiverQuarium were to close it would be a great detriment."

The finance committee recommended to not fund the request by the RiverQuarium, but the entire commission has not voted on the funding. They have by June 30th to decide.

Construction of an aviary has been put on hold, until operational funding for the RiverQuarium is secured.

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