|Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 1:36 am: || |
I would like to thank the Anon. who supports the idea of building a giant aquarium downtown for presenting his or her ideas in this forum. It gives us the opportunity to consider them and, if they are wrong, which I believe they are, to refute them. I know from my experience talking to people about the Belle Isle Aquarium, that many people want to know how its threatened closure relates to take about a new downtown aquarium. And many people agree with the ideas I will summarize below.
1. It is questionable whether Detroit will ever build a giant aquarium downtown. Such an aquarium would cost between 100 and 150 million to construct and about 20 million a year to operate. That's a larger operating budget than the Zoo in Royal Oak. To an extent, talk of a super(fish)bowl downtown is empty talk which serves to pacify and mollify people who are angry---and many, many are---about closing the BIA. Given Detroit's economic problems, it is quite likely it will never be built.
2. If a downtown superaquarium was ever built, it would be a financial disaster for Detroit. Only two such aquariums in the whole USA (out of about 35) break even on ticket revenues. They are the Monterey Bay Aq., about 60 miles from San Francisco, and the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. They have casinos and pro sports teams too. Moreover, they have a massively larger tourist traffic than Detroit. There's reallyy no comparison. A downtown aquarium would require so much non-profit support it would drain huge money from every other cultural institution in the City. And still require major City taxpayer support. It's basically absurd to claim that the Detroit---with an almost non-existant tourist business---cannot afford to subsidize the BIA, but it can support a superaquarim.
But---and this is a bigggg But---if it is built---the law firm(s) that do the legal work on the bonds and contracts will get paid big money. The investment bank that issues the bonds will get paid even bigger money out of the golden crumbs they scrape off every slice of the bond cake. (Tom Wolfe. Masters of the Universe). The consultants and engineering and architecture firms who do the environmental impact studies and land studies and design will get big money. and the construction companies who build it will too. and I suppose the Zoo director will get a nice raise commensurate with his increased responsibilities. And that's a lot of what it's all about. With so many (actually so few) people getting paid so much, who cares about the aftermath, or if the majority of people in the City or Metro region can afford to go there more than once a year, if that?
3. A superaquarium would cost somewhere between 20 and 25 dollars for an adult to visit. I imagine kids would probably cost about half that. In a city with 14% unemployment and an abundance of low wage jobs and overextended people in general, it would be out of reach for a huge number of city residents. And suburbanites too, for that matter. If it was run by the Zoo, it would probably boost zoo membership to a nice even $100 a year. Wonderful.
4. Finally, bigger is not always better. The Belle Isle Aquarium is housed in a sublimly beautiful building. It has a magnificent collection of Michigan fish (perhaps the greatest anywhere) and spectacular fish from all over the world. Whether your taste runs to strikingly brilliant tropicals, or spooky, infinitely intricate camoflage, or you like both, they're all there. I recently spoke to a woman at the Dearborn Borders who said she and her kids loved the place because you could see it all in an afternoon. (not "less than an hour")...(take that Jack Lessenberry. My 2 year old grandson sometimes studies the snapping turtle for 15 or 20 minutes in rapt concentration. Only two and he was rewarded with seeing the turtle catch a fish. How about that? Guess he has a longer attention span and more appreciation for natural beauty and detail than some people) Or maybe he just likes fish (and aquatic reptiles) more....Diffrent strokes....
There are art museums in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. as big as the DIA. Guess what? Those cities also have art museums and galleries inside converted single family homes that are world famous that have only ("only") a dozen or less great paintings and maybe space for an exhibit of another five or ten that change and are world famous and a great place to visit for an hour or two or a lot longer. (only a dozen or less beautiful paintings. guess you could see that in 12 minutes. Or less. Why bother going there? But could really see it? Really see it in 12 minutes or less. And thousands and thousands of people do go to those places) (Thought experiment: imagine if Belle Isle was three mile from the Loop in Chicago, which has the Shedd Aq. They wouldn't dream of closing something like the BIA. )
The BIA's collection is .fascinating and hauntingly beautiful The BIA also happens to be adjacent to a beautiful conservatory on an publicly owned island with great vistas, woods, trails, a spectacular fountain, canals, large ponds, a fine playscape, a giant slide, and dozens of picnic sites. It's a precious little treasure that is one of the high points of the whole Belle Isle experience. Furthermore, admission is only $4 for adults. Where else can people of all ages go, no matter what the weather or season, and see so much beauty for half the price of a movie ticket? Maybe that the "problem." It's not commercial enough for some people's taste. But I think it's great. and so do the overwhelming majority of the people in the City of Detroit. With a decent amount of competent marketing and publicity by the Zoo (or BIA itself) and the City, its attendance would probably double or triple within a year.
A city administration which would throw away such a wonderful entertainment and educational resource to save such a meagre amount of money (about $350,000 out of a projected deficit of $200,000,000 plus) does not deserve to remain in office. Improvements could be made at the Aq. which likely would not cost much which would enhance its entertainment and educational value. Perhaps some wireless flat screens that would show video of the exhibits in the wild and the people that catch them to eat or sell or keep. Interactive screens with more and detailed information about the life habits of the exhibits, why some are so brilliant, and some so camo, what they eat in the wild and captivity, etc. Headsets controlled by the user like at the DIA or other big (and small) art museums that would tell you as much or as little about each exhibit as you wanted to listen to. That's what we should be thinking about. And how to market the place. not shutting it down over a few hundred thousand dollars operating costs that could be raised by increased attendance, and a fair share of Detroit City zoo dollars, or a measly million or so dollars in capital improvements, the cost of ONE---ONE luxury single family home, that could be (and should have been) covered by a small fraction of the Zoological Society's capital improvement fund . The outrageous audacity of the DZS spending virtually all its capital improvement money in Royal Oak for the last ten years. What an insult---and injury---to the people of the City of Detroit. An administration incapable of saving the BIA under these circumstances needs to be fired.
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|Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 2:05 am: || |
One misstatement in my Superaquarium post I feel compelled to correct. The BIA has perhaps the greatest collection of Great Lakes fish anywhere. As a man I met at the AQ. pointed out who was raised near Green Bay, now lives in Florida, and drove to the BIA from Grand Rapids where he was visiting a couple of weeks ago. He said he'd been to many aquariums in the South and Midwest and had never seen a better Great Lakes collection.
Some, of course, are found throughout much of North America. Like the bass, pike, sunfish, and bluegills. Anyway, they're not just Michigan fish.
(we both wished we had Michigan's trout though. I wonder why not? Seems like if you can handle grayling, rainbows, browns, and brooks would be possible, although the rainbows and browns get a lot bigger. oh well, maybe after the crisis passes...or after we reopen it if KK insists on making a big mistake)