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The Georgia Aquarium

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Aquarium: Area gets ready for '05 opening

New street, buildings to surround aquarium

By DAVID PENDERED

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 05/30/04

The Georgia Aquarium is scheduled to open late next year in a section of downtown Atlanta that is expected to look much cleaner and have a few more skyscrapers than it does today.

Streetscapes will be improved. Sidewalks hosed clean regularly. A new boulevard created. New directional signs installed to help downtown visitors find both their destination and the way back home.

With the exception of the retooled road, these upgrades being arranged by downtown boosters may seem inconsequential. But they won't be insignificant to a family that gets lost and faces an uncertain walk on smelly and broken sidewalks.

That family isn't likely to hurry back. And Bernie Marcus made it clear, when he broke ground a year ago on his $200 million gift to metro Atlanta, that he wants a lot of repeat visitors so that downtown can reap all the financial benefits of what could be a huge tourist attraction.

"It's all economics," Marcus says. A cleaned-up downtown would induce people to stay there longer, he says.

"If people would stay one more day, it would be a shot in the arm for the city and the state. It would lead to revitalization of the downtown area. People will invest their money in something if they see that it's working."

Downtown boosters have been working intently to respond to the call from Marcus, who says the aquarium is his offering to the city where he and Arthur Blank founded Home Depot, a business that changed the nature of home improvement and made each of them a personal fortune. Blank used some of his wealth to buy the Atlanta Falcons football team.

Marcus' challenge fueled a sweeping effort to upgrade the tattered central business district. The work is being coordinated by Central Atlanta Progress, a longstanding group of downtown business leaders. And Marcus' call even prompted quick action from the Georgia Department of Transportation to retool a road that many aquarium visitors will use.

A.J. Robinson, CAP's president, says the goal is to create an inviting downtown where people will want to linger. The idea is not to replicate the pattern of Atlanta Braves fans.

"When a lot of people come to the baseball game, they drive in and drive out," Robinson says. "We don't want that to happen. We want to make it easy for them to see the aquarium and all the attractions downtown has to offer. We will miss a great opportunity if we don't try to take advantage of the aquarium."

To that end, CAP is evaluating a free shuttle bus system to link the aquarium with places such as CNN, Underground Atlanta, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and the hotel district. CAP wants area attractions to team up to sell a discounted admission ticket that would allow entry over a two- or three-day period to tours of the CNN Center, World of Coca-Cola museum, the Imagine It children's museum and the aquarium.

A grand boulevard

Meanwhile, several private developments have been announced that would bolster the area around the aquarium.

Two 35-story condominium towers with more than 1,000 units are to be built, starting later this year on a blighted tract near the Civic Center MARTA station. Southern Co. plans to move its headquarters to a new $50 million office building near the towers.

Another condo project overlooking Centennial Olympic Park has been announced, a $50 million project by Larry Gellerstedt, the former chief executive officer of Beers Construction. The final announced project is a retail and residential community being developed by the Integral Group.

To figure out how to capitalize on all these projects, and to improve the area's physical appearance, CAP in October started a review of the entire downtown area. It spans, generally speaking, the area around Peachtree Street from North Avenue to just south of the Five Points MARTA station.

Several improvements are viewed as crucial to a successful opening of the aquarium.

Streetscapes must be improved along the path between MARTA's Civic Center station and Centennial Olympic Park, which faces the aquarium. The work is to be funded with $3.2 million that Gov. Sonny Perdue included in his proposed transportation bond package.

Directional signs, to be installed throughout the downtown area, will be designed so they are of use to both pedestrians and motorists. Perdue's bond package calls for $2.2 million in funding, to be divided between downtown and Midtown.

The biggest project involves widening a series of streets into one grand boulevard, four lanes wide in parts, from West Peachtree Street past the aquarium and to Northside Drive near the Georgia World Congress Center. The main segment of the $13 million street is to open before the aquarium does, says Tom Turner, who oversees preconstruction for the GDOT. Perdue's plan calls for the state to provide $5.8 million for the boulevard.

The project has been on the state's drawing board for years. It involves three streets that now pass through a no man's land: Jones, Simpson and Alexander streets, known collectively as the JSA corridor.

Now, with the aquarium expected to attract 2.2 million visitors in its first year, the GDOT has put the project on the fast track, Turner says. Lots of visitors will be arriving by bus: school buses, tour buses and passenger buses carrying smaller groups.

"There's no question that we're trying to accelerate this project," Turner says. "Our target date is to have it open no later than when the aquarium opens."

The work will be done in two phases, starting with the stretch between West Peachtree and Luckie streets. It will have four lanes, flanked on each side with bicycle lanes. Each side will have 10-foot-wide sidewalks separated from the street by landscaping.

The second phase is important, but its timing is viewed as less critical. It will extend the boulevard to Northside Drive, near the Georgia World Congress Center. Once it's open, it will provide access to visitors from north of Atlanta who travel south on I-75 and will exit on Northside Drive and then proceed to the aquarium.

Bouncing back

Downtown has proved in the past year that it can rebound. A bustling restaurant row has emerged on once-blighted Broad Street, a block west of Peachtree. The catalyst was a classroom building that Georgia State University opened in the historic Fairlie-Poplar District.

Around noon on Fridays, a party unfolds during the SunTrust Lunch on Broad event. CAP workers put out chairs and clean the area for hundreds of students and office workers who gather weekly. The scene is vastly different from the former foreboding appearance of the place.

As Robinson considers the evolution of the downtown area, from the new office and residential developments to the aquarium to the new Broad Street, he's still convinced the future is bright.

"The private sector is beginning to see the potential of what is going to take place in this neighborhood," he says, "and we're still a long way away from the opening of the big fish tank."

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eastsider    244

Atlanta Business Chronicle article: Aquarium set to open in fall

The Georgia Aquarium will make its first splash on Nov. 23, when it opens its doors to the public.

"Our opening date is determined by a variety of construction and other planning deadlines, and many of the key dates have been met," said Bernie Marcus, the aquarium's benefactor. "We are thrilled we will be open in time to allow families, together for the Thanksgiving holiday, to spend a portion of their holiday week at the Georgia Aquarium."

The Georgia Aquarium, now under construction across the street from Centennial Olympic Park, will be one of the world's largest aquarium facilities, with more than 5 million gallons of marine and fresh water, an expected 55,000 animals and 500 different species. Its ballroom will accommodate sit-down dining for 1,200, and there will be space throughout the facility to host functions with more than 10,000 guests.

From the rederings I've seen, it looks like a great looking building. Does anyone know the status of the projects mentioned in the article from the 1st post?

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ironchapman    1

At last! Something else worth visiting in the Atlanta area!

I like the building...anyone have a pic or two of it?

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ironchapman    1

:w00t: WOW! Amazing, isn't it?

I've seen it before in drawings, just not lately, so I couldn't remember that much about it.

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Spartan    682

Looks like a large boat. I guess thats the point though?

I think Savannah would have been the better place for it too... being on the coast where the aquatic life is.

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teshadoh    0

Looks like a large boat. I guess thats the point though?

I think Savannah would have been the better place for it too... being on the coast where the aquatic life is.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Well, yeah... I don't know why Bernie Marcus wanted to build this thing, it's his 'gift' to the city, so I guess beggers can't be choosers. But an aquarium in Atlanta just a short distance from one in Chattanooga & Charleston is a little bizarre. Fortunately he is bank rolling the whole thing, b/c many cities have been stuck with huge financial losses - basically Atlanta's Underground.

But whatever - he built it & I may one day actually visit, though I would have prefered another museum for history, science, or music since Atlanta only has one 'big' museum & just several small museums - though Fernbank, Buckhead History, & Michael C Carlos are nice, they aren't spectacular.

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Isn't it the biggest in the world or nation?

I don't think so - but it is one of the biggest.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I believe it will be the second largest in the nation. Not sure about world rankings.

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Spartan    682

Is Underground Atltanta really that unsuccessful? Every time I have been it is irritatingly crowded.

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ironchapman    1

Looks like a large boat. I guess thats the point though?

I think Savannah would have been the better place for it too... being on the coast where the aquatic life is.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

It was designed to look like Noah's Ark, I think.

Savannah or Augusta would have been a nice place for it, but as we all know, if it's something big that's going to happen to GA, it will be built in Atlanta.

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teshadoh    0

Is Underground Atltanta really that unsuccessful? Every time I have been it is irritatingly crowded.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Good question - b/c the 'theory' for most Atlantans, especially suburbanites is that it is a huge failure. Yet quite often - at least on the weekends - it is busy, especially with the new revamped Kenny's Ally (which I have to say was kind of fun). But the problem is that Underground has required two major overhauls in the past 20 years & the taxpayers have paid a fortune for a 'sure thing'. Underground has gone through slumps where the vacancy rate was high but hopefully it has found a new formula that will provide it with some success.

But I think the main problem I & most others have is the concept of a civic funded entertainment development.

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ironchapman    1

I learned this about most of my fellow ATL suburbanites, teshadoh, I don't trust them. They seem to have some sort of problem with the city that is porbably why their neighborhoods exist.

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Is Underground Atltanta really that unsuccessful? Every time I have been it is irritatingly crowded.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

It's a success and a failure all wrapped into one. Which sounds kinda weird, doesn't it?

It's been successful lately. With the exemption allowing it to pour until 4am when everyone else is forced to close at 2:30, it has really draw a nice weekend party crowd. The new management has done a pretty good job bringing business back to Underground and cleaning it up.

It has been a failure in a lot of ways. Underground was suppose to do for DT what the Aquarium is suppose to do. It was suppose to be a way to attract suburbanities, visitors, and spawn a renewed interest. It obviously hasn't even come close to what they would hope it would do.

And as teshadoh mentioned, it's been heavily funded with tax payer money.

There was a great proposal a few years ago to build condos and apartments above underground. Unforunately, I don't think it will ever happen because of engineering problems supporting the structures. But it certainly would have been great to bring some residential to that area of DT.

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Chris121091    0

I purchased a fish scale, It's supposed to be similar to the bricks a centennial park but these are inside and on a wall. THey cost 55 dollars and are tax deductable. So yall should buy one.

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ironchapman    1

I noticed some people saying that it should be located in Brunswick, Savannah, etc.

Maybe if the GA Aqurium in ATL is successful enough, they could build a branch one in a coastal city.

NC has branch aquariums: One in Ft. Fisher (near Wilmington), The Outer Banks, and around Oak Island.

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Chris121091    0

In todays AJC, It has a picture of Bernie Marcus with a big frame, with the aquarium visible throuh the frame and right behind him.

FROM AJC .COM

image_1555261.jpg

"Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus is sinking $200 million into the biggest indoor aquarium in the U.S."

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Martinman    75

Looks like a large boat. I guess thats the point though?

I think Savannah would have been the better place for it too... being on the coast where the aquatic life is.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Its the same concept as having zebras and panda bears in the zoo...its something that the average person in this part of the world would not normally see or experience.

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