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Allan

Belle Isle Aquarium to Close

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City of Detroit Budget Cuts Lead to Closure of 101-Year-Old Belle Isle Aquarium

Friday January 14, 4:18 pm ET

ROYAL OAK, Mich., Jan. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- The decision to close the 101- year-old aquarium on Belle Isle comes after the City of Detroit announced yesterday several measures to reduce a projected structural $230 million deficit for 2005-2006. The closing will save the City over $530,000 in expense annually and millions in capital needed to keep the old building suitable for animals and visitors. The Detroit Zoological Institute and Society have been working for a number of years on a plan to create a state- of-the-art riverfront aquarium in the near future.

Details regarding logistics and closing date will be determined over the next several weeks. Institute staff will begin working to find homes for the fish at other accredited institutions. Six Aquarium staff will be transferred to other City departments, take positions at the Detroit Zoo or the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, or be laid off. An additional 11 positions at the Detroit Zoo will be eliminated.

Attendance at the Belle Isle Aquarium has continued to decline despite new exhibits and marketing and public relations efforts. In 1995 attendance at the Aquarium was 113,000 visitors. In 2000, it was 86,000 and in 2004, 56,000 visitors. The Belle Isle Aquarium costs the City of Detroit over $530,000 a year for basic operations while generating $105,000 in revenue.

Significant challenges are associated with looming capital costs to maintain the facilities and antiquated infrastructure properly for the animals and the visitors. This includes lack of ADA compliancy, roofing problems and more. Over $600,000 was spent three years ago just to repair the flooring infrastructure.

Given that the Belle Isle Aquarium is over 100 years old, further operation of the facility with significant capital investment might stabilize the physical structure but several areas need renovations including; work areas, basement areas, and animal holding areas.

Director of the Detroit Zoological Institute, Ron Kagan states, "The closing of this building is unfortunate, especially considering the outstanding conservation work. However, we need a much larger and modern facility as soon as possible; one that will offer the community and tourists great experiences and economic benefits for Detroit." Kagan adds, "Studies show that a state-of-the-art riverfront aquarium will attract one million visitors annually and generate $100 million in economic impact."

The new 150,000 sq. ft. facility could feature walk-through exhibits, like the Zoo's Arctic Ring of Life, sea lions, sharks, sting rays, walrus, sea turtles, and many other aquatic wonders not possible at the 10,000 sq. ft, 101-year-old Belle Isle Aquarium.

The Detroit Zoological Institute will continue to move forward with its plans for the new Belle Isle Nature Zoo (BINZ). Some BINZ programming for the public and community groups has already begun and the first construction phase of new exhibits will open this fall. When finished, the Belle Isle Nature Zoo will afford year-round unique educational opportunities for Detroit teachers, schoolchildren, their parents, families, and the community. Opportunities provided at the Nature Zoo will enhance children's lives through improving their learning about and enjoyment of the great outdoors.

The Detroit Zoological Institute, founded in 1928, is committed to celebrating and saving wildlife. Situated on 125 acres of naturalistic exhibits, the Detroit Zoo is Wednesday through Sunday with several indoor viewing areas. The Detroit Zoo is located at the intersection of Ten Mile Road and Woodward Avenue, just off I-696 in Royal Oak. Admission is $10.50 for adults 13 to 62; $8.50 for senior citizens 62 and older and $6.50 for students ages 2 to 12; and children under two are free. The Detroit Zoological Institute is always looking for volunteers; if interested, please call Sue Kingsepp at (248) 541-5717. For more information call (248) 398-0900 or visit our web site at http://www.detroitzoo.org .

http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/050114/def023_1.html

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Sad to see it close but as I read on seems like out with the old and in with the new, the costs of rehabing something that old just become untenable.

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Not to mention the fact Albert Kahn desigend the aquarium. I believe it is the oldest aquarium or something of that matter

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I like the idea of a new aquarium, but what ever happened to that one they were going to put near Hart Plaza? I also worry about the current structure. It is architecturally significant in that it is the oldest public aquarium in the country. It opened in 1904.

Here are some photos from earlier today.

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Not to mention the fact Albert Kahn desigend the aquarium. I believe it is the oldest aquarium or something of that matter

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Darn, you beat me! I guess I just took too long uploading my photos. LOL.

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What's up with this mismanagement of Detroit? Tax cuts to attract residents, old building renovation stalls, budget deficits, and now an aquarium closing? I love aquariums, but I hate it when it closes. Is this the result of bad governing, economy, or something else?

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The infrastructure in the city is aging and is literally falling apart in many cases. Water lines are 75+ years old and must be replaced, some street lights are so old that parts for them are no longer produced, many roads need to be completely reconstructed. Detroit has lost more than half of its peak population, which was reported to be 2 million in the mid 1950s. Today the city has 901,000 people in the same area. The people that are left must pay for the infrastructure that was built to handle 2 million people and is now crumbling. Not to mention that the city government has not decreased in size at the same rate as the population. The city is still trying to provide the same level of services to its residents that it provided in 1950. The simple fact is that it cannot. 26% of the people living in Detroit live below the poverty line. That doesn't help things any either. Detroit is on its way to financial disaster. It can be stopped, but drastic changes must be made, and they must be made now. The question is: will the mayor have the guts to make these changes in an election year? Something tells me that the answer is a resounding "no!"

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:( One word: AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! :o What the hell have the previous mayors done to make this city literally a fragile, old man? :blink::huh: ?????? This city needs repairs and reforms of all kinds and what's up with the crime? :unsure::angry: It's probably gonna take many, many years to fix all this; I guess the previous mayors were probably picking their noses all day while they were in office. :sick: This puts a huge burden on future mayors. :wacko:

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What's up with this mismanagement of Detroit? Tax cuts to attract residents, old building renovation stalls, budget deficits, and now an aquarium closing? I love aquariums, but I hate it when it closes. Is this the result of bad governing, economy, or something else?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Maybe THIS story will help explain what the hell is wrong with the city finances. To think that the mayor, only 24 hours before this story broke, told all (non-union) city workers that they were either losing their jobs or being forced to take a 10% pay cut, this one clearly explains what's wrong with the city government and its finances.

And I'm sick and tired of hearing city council members complain about the mayor's actions. They should have put an end to all of this a long time ago, but all they ever do is complain. Nothing ever comes out of their actions if you ask me.

I love the City of Detroit and its history, but the management of OUR city over the past 30-40 years just makes me sick.

Alan, thanks for the beautiful pictures of the aquarium.

- BR

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To be fair to Detroit all cities and especially big ones have these infrastructure problems (look at the national interstate system for example there are anually hundreds of millions of dollars spent repairing and maintaining its infrastructure).

The problem with the aquarium when I read it was more of just its time has passed issue, sad to see something that historic close down, but like anything else in life, some things just require too much to save, I know the article went into how they studied maintaining it or rehabing it but decided a new one that was modern would be a win win for the city. I don't feel that anyone in City Hall is guilty of mismanagement on this particular issue but maybe through the decades more could have been done to maintain it. The old debate in politics is always "how to meet infinite needs with finite resources" a Mayor can't save everything and rehab everything, there has to be choices, priorities. Interested in hearing others opinions on this.

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It sounds as if there is a small chance that the aquarium will remain open. I'm not holding my breath though.

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Group puts pressure on to save aquarium

The City Council will vote Wednesday whether to delay closure for a year.

By Judy Lin / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Fish enthusiasts pleaded Monday for a reprieve for the 101-year-old Belle Isle Aquarium, arguing that cost of operating it is a small price to pay for preserving the educational and cultural institution.

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration has decided to close the aquarium in March to save about $500,000 toward $94 million in cuts he has to make to balance this year's budget.

"This is a legacy from our grandparents and we have a moral obligation in supporting this institution for our grandchildren," said Kathleen Alan, 45, of Ferndale, who helped start Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium after the city announced the closing last month. She said the building, designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, is the type of attraction the city needs to showcase during next year's Super Bowl XL.

Councilmember JoAnn Watson said she'll introduce a resolution Wednesday that would grant community and philanthropic groups one year to find alternative funding, including an endowment, to sustain it. The City Council could vote as early as Wednesday.

The debate highlights the challenge Detroit faces in cutting its budget: For virtually every program in which cuts are proposed, there's a constituency willing to fight for it. In this case, it's an aging aquarium where attendance has fallen by 35 percent in the last four years alone.

If the City Council grants a stay, some city officials wondered how the city will keep it running.

"While you deliberate, you spend the money the city doesn't have," said Recreation Director Charles Beckham.

The zoo department says the city could save the $500,000 annually in operating expenses, plus millions of dollars more that are needed to keep the building safe and up to code. Currently, the aquarium has roof problems and is not in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.

Zoo director Ron Kagan says he's willing to discuss keeping it open with the help of private support.Kagan said he was encouraged by aquarium support because attendance has fallen at both the zoo and aquarium in recent years. Dozens attended the meeting.

Last year, 56,000 people visited Belle Isle Aquarium, a dramatic drop from 86,000 in 2000.

At the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, attendance fell to 1 million from 1.4 million in 2000.

Some supporters accused the city of favoring the zoo over the aquarium, but Kagan said the entire department has been affected by budget cuts.

"We place pride in that wonderful historic building and it's unfortunate that people have misinterpreted our desire," he said.

Alan and nearly 2,000 people who signed an online petition in support of keeping the aquarium open will have the challenge of raising $500,000 if a year extension is granted. But members say that while they do not have specific plans, they feel confident they can establish a nonprofit organization to find the money.

"People will step up to the plate and they'll come through," said Thomas A Wilson Jr., a board member of Friends of Belle Isle, another group that supports the island park. "That aquarium will be saved."

Ruth Glancy, chairwoman and president of the Detroit Zoological Society, which raises money for the Detroit Zoological Institute, said she hopes money will be filtered through the society. When individuals and groups donate to the society, they can designate which of the institute's three operations -- the zoo, the aquarium, or the nature center -- receives the money.

"The society already has an endowment," Glancy said. "I don't know why you would start another organization. It's best to set up an organization under the umbrella of the society and designate money for the aquarium."

During Monday's hearing, Alan and others questioned why the city felt a need to close the aquarium when the city has gone through hard times before. While the city is grappling with a $94 million deficit from last fiscal year, the city operates on a $1.9 billion budget.

One supporter quoted former Mayor Coleman Young by saying, "You don't give away the jewels for the price of polishing it."

Located on the southwest side of Belle Isle, the aquarium has 4,000 creatures, including two species -- the golden sawfin goodeid and the pinstripe damba -- on the endangered list. So far, 70 creatures have been relocated to the zoo, Kagan said.

Councilwoman Sharon McPhail suggested that the City Council should consider filing an injunction to stop the transfer of all the creatures and even floated the idea of suing the city to keep the aquarium open.

That idea is not new. When the city decided to close the zoo at Belle Isle, City Council sued and lost.

Stephen Goodfellow of Highland Park says he takes his four-year-old son there to learn about fish. Goodfellow created a Web site for Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium called www.belleisleaquarium.com.

You can reach Judy Lin at (313) 222-2072 or [email protected]

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Tasia Lynch of Livonia with children John, 11, Fia, 8, and niece Mira Dbouk, 9, walk out of Belle Isle Aquarium, which the city has proposed closing in March to fill a budget hole.

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Last night City council approved the resolution that allows the aquarium to stay open for two more months. The city still plans to announce a closing date within the next week. City council also approved a measure that limits the Detroit Zoo's ability to sell or transfer animals that lead to the closure of an exhibit.

To keep the aquarium open, Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium will have to raise $500,000. They are applying for federal grants and are planning a fundraising effort that will go towards keeping the aquarium open.

Details here: http://www.freep.com/news/locway/aquarium24e_20050224.htm

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Last night City council approved the resolution that allows the aquarium to stay open for two more months.  The city still plans to announce a closing date within the next week.  City council also approved a measure that limits the Detroit Zoo's ability to sell or transfer animals that lead to the closure of an exhibit.

Hello Folks,

This is my first post to the forum so I hope I am replying in the correct space. I would love to see the aquarium remain open. But what I would love even more is to see and hear about twice as much concern for the bus system that is also on the chopping block. If that is seriously cut, there will be people outside. The folks that use (or attempt to use) the system to get to work may lose their tenuous holds on employment. My daughter and I have visited the aquarium and would love to see it stay open. But relative to other crisis facing the city I am not feeling that bad about this one.

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Welcome to the forum!

There seems to be a tremendous outpouring of support for the aquarium. If FOBIA can raise enough money to keep it open, that would be great. Another option is charging a small admission fee to get onto the island. I do think the city should look into other ways of funding it, rather than just closing it down immediately.

You're right though...24 hour bus service is more important. A lot more Detroiters depend on 24 hour bus service than the aquarium. It's a safe bet that most Detroiters don't even know about the aquarium, let alone have actually visited.

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Thats a shame, the news always seems to be bad in Detroit these days.

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