Can RiverQuarium tighten its belt? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Can RiverQuarium tighten its belt?

June 21, 2007

Albany --  What went wrong with the Flint RiverQuarium? Why is it so expensive to operate?

So expensive in fact, that it may have to shut its doors by the end of July. A lot of that has to do with the construction of the building, and costs associated with running the actual tanks at the aquarium.

So what can be done now to keep the Riverquarium open, and running for a lot less?

It's a fine oiled machine. That takes a lot of oil, elbow grease, and energy to operate. "These three big motors on these pumps. They're large motors going 24 hours a day, seven days a week,"  said Curator Richard Brown.

The basic reason the Flint Riverquarium is so expensive to operate is pretty simple. "Aquariums are expensive. They just are," Brown said. One of the reasons, is the cost of electricity, and just how much electricity was underrated when this facility was built.

"The electrical bill, is somewhere from $10,000 to $18,000," Brown said.

There are also questions now about why the Riverquarium uses Water, Gas and light to provide water rather than directly drawing from the Flint River.

The Flint Riverquarium basically backs right up to the Flint River. So it would seem simple enough to take water directly from the Flint and put it in the aquariums. Then take the waste water and put it back in the river. "It may seem like it, but it's really just not practical," Brown said.

Brown says DNR would likely not grant a permit to pull 175,000 gallons of water from the Flint for the aquarium, and they certainly wouldn't allow water that contains chemicals that kill bacteria and parasites back in. "A lot of these fish are going to need treatments that just can't be put back into the Flint."

But is the Riverquarium wasting money by operating the way they are? Brown says no. "For what it is, it's a relatively efficient system, aquariums are just expensive to run. They're expensive to have, they cost a lot in terms of electricity."

In addition to the high cost of electricity, staff members are specially and specifically trained to handle the animals in the facility.

So what needs to be done to keep the Riverquarium open in spite of a $600,000 budget shortfall? Senator Michael Meyer von Bremen of Albany thinks the board of Directors is on the right track by asking the local governmental bodies for help.

He says there should also be more of a marketing campaign to draw people to the Riverquarium and that a package deal to that location and other attractions in Albany could be a big pull.

Meyer von Bremen says the Riverquarium needs to stay open because it brings in lots of folks who otherwise wouldn't come to Albany. They stay at our hotels and eat in our restaurants, bringing money into the community.

And that proof is in the pudding. Today, we found Robin Ward and her Blackshear family after they went through the exhibits. They drove two and a half hours from Blackshear, Georgia just to come to the Riverquarium.

Last night, they stayed in Albany's newest Hotel, The Hilton Garden Inn, and said in addition to the Riverquarium, they really enjoyed Albany. When they heard it's in danger of shutting down, they were shocked. "That's horrible, because we've already planned to come back next year."

Robin and her family also made a day of a trip to the Parks at Chehaw Wednesday.

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