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aquarium in downtown Raleigh?

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Talks bubble about building an aquarium in downtown Raleigh

Kim Nilsen

RALEIGH - The North Carolina Aquarium Society has uncorked the idea of building an aquarium in Raleigh, and the nonprofit has taken a furtive glance at a possible site - downtown's Exploris museum.

Before anyone draws comparisons between that look- see and the circling of sharks, the visit wasn't as predatory as it might sound.

"That's one of the facilities that we've looked at internally," says Neal Conoley, executive director of the society. "Certainly, we're not pushing the idea." The notion was discussed "in passing" with state officials at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which oversees North Carolina's three state-supported aquariums.

Conoley says there have been no talks with Exploris, a private, nonprofit children's museum, or with Wake County, which owns and maintains Exploris' Hargett Street building.

"If there's any interest in doing that," he adds, the society would be happy to consider it. But he stresses that for this year, the society is focused on getting a $23 million-plus expansion at the state aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores near Atlantic Beach.

The smallest of the state aquariums Pine Knoll had 239,710 visitors in the year that ended June 30. The Fort Fisher aquarium drew 456,190, while the facility on Roanoke Island reported attendance of 315,714.

Exploris and the Imax at Exploris theater, which have been plagued with budget deficits despite ongoing funding from Wake County, drew 183,000 visitors in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

"Aquariums are great attractions," says Margaret Mullen, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. "It's one we ought to look at."

But Mullen, a member of the Exploris board, would look to the existing Raleigh Convention and Conference Center building instead of Exploris as a site. The more modern portion of the center, which faces Wilmington Street, would be left standing when the new convention center opens, under the current plan.

A bid to convert Charlotte's old convention hall to an aquarium fizzled in 2000 when the city developed alternative plans. Refitting the building and adding exhibits would have cost $75 million to $100 million, Conoley says.

The Queen City could offer up competition for supporters of an aquarium in Raleigh. Meanwhile, a group from Fayetteville has sought state backing for a freshwater aquarium in that city.

While Charlotte boasts a larger population than Raleigh, Conoley says, the capital city is better known as a museum hub. "It just depends on which place wants to be more aggressive," he says.

Several groups could be waiting in the wings for Raleigh's leftover convention center space, Mullen says. Already, there's talk of a movie theater, performance space, a community center and a public-private partnership to build Shaw University dorms.

A center city location in Raleigh would give Raleigh another tourist attraction.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore drew 1.5 million people in 2002. More than 1.7 million visited the $70 million South Carolina Aquarium between its May 2000 opening on the Charleston Harbor and April 2003.

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I haven't heard so much as a squeak about an aquarium in Charlotte recently. Like I've said before, theyre kinda a fad that everyone wants/wanted. With THREE on the NC coast it seems redundant to build another in Raleigh. I doubt Charlotte offers any competition, as the reporter indicates.

but a movie theater in downtown Raleigh, go for it!!

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What's with everyone wanting an Aquarium lately? I was glad they built one in Atlanta, just because the city desperately needs another tourist attraction, but even then an Aquarium seems like something that is just overdone.

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It may surprise everyone, but there are a lot of people here (in Raleigh) who would love an aquarium... downtown, or elsewhere. Quite frankly, I do not like the idea of putting it on the East wing of the current convention center. That location is prime for a high-rise, not an aquarium. There are several parking lots around DT Raleigh that could offer a greater alternative to that site, plus we could help create a destination in areas that need it the most.

Anyway, the talk about an aquarium is nothing new, but up until now it was more like a concept. Hopefully, it will materialize and become a profitable destination. I know that students will be brought in great numbers, although I doubt they will have to pay admission. I will definitely go...

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They should put the aquarium as close to the other muesems as possible...that way visitors can park once and go to multiple muesems.

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Count me as a fan of the "fish fad."

Aquariums have educational components (esp. considering that the majority of the Earth's surface is under water), are usually visually appealing, and draw a wide variety of people 365 days a year.

I do wonder about the limits of the "aquarium arms race" in the region, but

I wish AL-MS had even one large-scale aquarium.

Birmingham has talked about building an aquarium forever, even back when Chattanooga was first planning its attraction, but with Atlanta and Chattanooga both so close, I don't see it happening. Downtown Mobile would be perfect, though.

A few things I like better about Chattanooga's than some others :

* Originality

* "Authenticity" (TN leads all states in freshwater biodiversity, plus it's a riverfront location, so the freshwater focus seems very much in line, as opposed to just "building a big fish tank in the middle of a city somewhere")

* Connectivity - The aquarium isn't just a "stand-alone attraction," but helps downtown as an overall destination, along with a ball park, river cruises, a pedestrian bridge, shops and restaurants, a Riverwalk, an art museum, a children's museum and IMAX, and transit.

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Chattanooga's Aquarium is by far one of the best I have been. Plus, what the city what able to do to build on the success of the aquarium is amazing. A lot of cities use this attractions to bring life DT, but many don't succeed like Chattanooga did.

Don't get me wrong, I love Aquariums, and I think they make great attractions for the redeeming value over other nonsense attractions (i.e. World of Coke). I just think they are becoming a fad, and that does get a little old.

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Aquariums are cool. They should build it as an attraction for locals, kids love 'em.

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True It think it would be a great project for Raleigh. If Raleigh doesn't do it, The North Carolina Zooical Park in Asheboro may be the best place to build an aquarium in the Piedmont.

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I think that no matter where in DT Raleigh they build it (if they build it), it will be near one of the [future] regional rail stops. There is plenty of parking around the museums and the convention center, so no matter where they build it, the Aquarium will be easily accessible, although I agree that proximity to the existing museums will make things easier.

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