RiverQuarium receives financial aid - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

RiverQuarium receives financial aid

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July 24, 2007

Albany - A possible reprieve for the Flint Riverquarium, the Dougherty County Commission is giving the struggling attraction $250,000. And if all goes as planned, they'll get more money Tuesday night from the city. So how will that money be used and what does the Riverquarium plan to do to make more money to keep its doors open in the future?

It was the middle of June when Flint Riverquarium CEO Scott Loehr dropped a bomb on city and county commissioners: he would need $600,000 within 45 days, or the Riverquarium would be forced to shut down.

"We're elated that the Dougherty County Commission has appropriated $250,000, kind of a bit of surprise," said Loehr.

Now, just as the doors were to be locked, the county has partially bailed the Riverquarium out from it's financial shipwreck. "We had some funds that we had available and felt like would be a good use of the taxpayers money to go ahead and transfer those to ADICA for the Riverquarium," said County Commissioner Lamar Hudgins.

That money alone though, won't keep the Riverquarium open for the entire year. Another $300,000 contribution from the city is desperately needed. Loehr said, "The $600,000 is the amount needed to close the gap in our operating budget this year."

And it's almost certain they'll get a commitment for some, if not all, of that money when city commissioners meet Tuesday night. "I would not want to see that building empty, so I think we're doing our part at this time and hopefully the Riverquarium and the community can step up to do a whole lot more for them," said City Commissioner Morris Gurr.

Both local governments will have to funnel the money through ADICA because state law prohibits them from giving money directly to a private not for profit, but commissioners say whichever way possible is necessary. Gurr said, "The state has invested a lot, and saying that, in downtown Albany." "We can't just let a major, major attraction downtown close when the state has invested some $30 Million in it and it's not something we would like to do, but it's something we felt like we needed to do," said Hudgins.

And Loehr says he'll do what's needed to keep the Riverquarium going, and bringing in more private dollars to reduce the need for public funding.

Both city and county commissioners hope they won't have to give the Riverquarium money every year, but they say they'll address funding issues next year if they have to. Now that money is secured, the Riverquarium may be able to look at beginning construction on an aviary, a project paid for with a million dollars in sales tax revenue.

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