RiverQ pleads for $, and gets it - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

RiverQ pleads for $, and gets it


In a four to three vote, city commissioners approved giving the RiverQuarium $150,000.

It's a move that the CEO says is necessary to keep the aquarium afloat.

The future of the Flint RiverQuarium is bright...for now.

"We are going to turn that corner by changing the business model, but we're going to have to have some bridge money," said Emily Jean McAfee, the Board of the Directors Chair.

RiverQuarium officials say it's this bridge money- $150,000 from the city will help them stay afloat until March.

"We could have possibly closed in about a month. It is that tight for us. And it has been that way for a while," said Sanders Lewallen, the RiverQuarium CEO.

Lewallen admitted to the city commission that their original business model needs conservative changes. They've already trimmed their budget down to about a million dollars and have cut their staff from 20 employees to nine.

But with this local support, Lewallen is confident big foundations will now also contribute.

"It will not answer all our problems. But it does give a good, kind of stabilizing effect to where we go. And it gives us some room to have a few months to go after the large donors out there we think are there for us," said Lewallen.

In years past the RiverQuarium received $275,000 from the city, but that too has dwindled to $150,000.

While commissioners approved this year's money, some have very different opinions about what the future holds for the RiverQuarium.

"I see them working to cut expenses and raise additional money from foundations and corporations and donor base, they have a very strong donor base.  So I feel good about the RiverQuarium," said Commissioner Roger Marietta.

"I just feel like we keep finding ourselves in the same situation, year after year after year, that I do not have confidence that this little bit of funding that they voted to do today is a long term solution," said Commissioner Bob Langstaff.

"I will admit that the RiverQuarium is a crown jewel downtown and we need to continue to fund it.  But I think that just like any other business, that we certainly got to make sure that it will have long term sustained effect downtown," said Commissioner Jon Howard.

One long term solution that has been discussed is combining some services at the RiverQuarium and Chehaw Park. Something both parties seem to welcome with open arms.

"One of the thing that we have discussed over the years is utilizing Chehaw, which is an AZA accredited institution, using their staff to do the RiverQuarium," said Langstaff.

The Flint RiverQuarium officials have been given the green light to begin drilling a well on their property. They're hoping this is one way they'll be able to save some money. One of their biggest bills is to WG&L.

And city commissioners say they want to get more involved and are looking at possibly adding a commissioner to the RiverQuarium's board of directors.

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