FOBIA  Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium

Web Admin's choice
Exceptional Writings - You write something!

- Dedicated to the continuity and preservation of the Belle Isle Aquarium -

Home      About Us       Info-History       Membership, Volunteer & Donation       News             Gallery

Forum       Press Releases         Events/Meetings                Links            Access

| Add your voice! | Citizen Comments | Forum |

Letter from Governor Granholm

Dear All,

I was dismayed by the reports of the proposed closing of yet another Great
Lakes Aquarium. As former Curator of Fishes at the now dismantled SeaWorld
Ohio, and one of the professionals that rescued the animal collection from the
Cedar Point Aquarium when it closed a number of years ago, I have a unique
personal perspective on this action. The impact on the dedicated staff of this
facility would be devastating and permanent. That said, there are some sound
logistical and financial reasons to keep the facility open, or at least fully
staffed and operational, while the planning and construction of the new
riverfront aquarium proceeds.

The Belle Isle Aquarium should be used as a staging facility for the
acquisition of specimens for the new riverfront facility. This will save millions that
will otherwise need to be spent on erecting a new temporary warehouse
structure for this purpose. As someone who is currently preparing to build such a
structure for a new aquarium in Niagara Falls, Ontario, I can attest to the
enormous expense. The city of London, UK has taken exactly the approach I
suggest above, converting their aging but historical aquarium building into a
holding facility for the massive new Silverton Aquarium complex currently under
development. Any new aquarium facility requires temporary holding facilities for
the new animal collection. Such collections must be built over a period of
2-3 years and are only added to a new building during the final months before
opening. The availability of public aquarium specimens, especially the large
and rare species, is highly variable, and many species must be specially
collected over a long period of time.

During planning and construction the existing Belle Isle Aquarium should also
serve as public relations and welcome center for the new riverfront aquarium.
The public can view models, plans, and some of the specimens that will be on
display at the new facility.

Last but not least, by retaining the existing staff and much of the existing
animal collection, the city will be able to launch it's new aquarium with
experienced husbandry professionals and a mature collection. Public aquarium
specialists with a knowledge of the Detroit visitor base can only be found at one
place...the Belle Isle Aquarium. Some of the aquarium's larger and most
interesting inhabitants will take a decade to replace, due to the slow growth of
many fishes and unavailability of large adults from commercial sources.

I hope you will consider these facts in making your final decision regarding
the future of the Belle Isle Aquarium.

Peter Mohan
Chairman, Regional Aquatics Workshop (leading annual meeting for north
american aquariums)
Editor, Drum and Croaker (leading industry publication)
former Curator of Fishes, SeaWorld Ohio
future Husbandry Director, Ripley's Aquarium of Canada


The Belle Isle Aquarium has bred many endangered and ecolologically
extinct fish for nearly two decades. These fish have been provided to
AZA facilities for many years. Belle Isle staff have been conducting
valuable research on Fresh water mussels (the most endangered group of
animals in North America).  Many individuals and groups would be very
disappointed to see such an institution go away.
Mike Brittsan
Curator Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Chair of the AITAG
Chair of the Coral Reef CAP

From: James Holtyn <>
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2005 15:41:01 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: Friends Of The Belle Isle Aquarium Forum

This aquarium is a piece of the history of Detroit &
Belle Isle.  Closing it is not going to really make a
dent in the city's $230 Million dollar deficit.

Closing the aquarium will save about $500,000 a year,
so that is about a .2 % reduction.  So that isn't even

I think it would be nice to have some time to have the
decision makers from both sides sit down and talk
before making a quick decision to layoff people &
close the aquarium.  That really is not going to
benefit anyone in the short run.

Maybe this facility can be saved & promoted more.  And
even if a new one is built, these existing tanks in
the current facility could be used for back up use.

This is just my opinion.

I just think that you must consider this...if you
remove the jewels one by one from the crown of Detroit
(Belle Isle)   The city won't shine as bright.

Maybe this aquarium needs promotion to public &
private schools in Detroit & the Suburbs as "the
oldest freshwater" aquarium in the country.  Bring
students in for field trips.

Or, another idea, close some of those exhibits that
are THE MOST EXPENSIVE to operate?

Again ,these are just ideas to consider that may be
used in addressing the reasons to keep it open.

Thank you,

James Holtyn

Jan Anderson
Posted on Friday, January 21, 2005 - 3:44 pm:     

Beyond everyone's emotional attachments to the Aquarium is the fact that it is an integral part of the fabric of a place on the National Register of Historic Districts, and as such, is integral to making the park as a whole work for visitors. its closure without any vision for alternative use guts the cultural heart of the park and damages it as a whole, far beyond the $ cost of operating the Aquarium itself. An abandoned Aquarium building undermines the pedestrian scale mix of uses that defines the urban experience and distinguishes Belle Isle, but is so rare in Detroit. The lack of vision and planning in this announcement is another gross waste of public assets.

I am a professional ichthyologist and fish geneticist and in that capacity, as well as a tourist, have visited public aquaria all over the world.  I would rate the Belle Isle aquarium as one of the best I have seen, and I think very highly of the professional acuity and competence of those staff members I have met.  It would be a shame to close this Aquarium down when many of the other ones are simply displays of "charismatic" species with no thought to the biology involved.  This is a truly professional establishment and should be allowed to continue.

Bruce J. Turner, Ph.D.

The Detroit Aquarium and botanical garden constitute one of the city's best kept secrets (probably a bad thing) and most impressive jewels (definitely a good thing).  I live in the suburbs but visit the aquarium at least two or three times every winter.  It is a romantic place steeped in history, architecture and beauty.  If either of these places ever closes, it will surely be a sad and embarrassing day in Detroit.  Is profit the only thing that matters?  How can sooo much money be spent on sports stadiums, car shows, casinos and the Zoo proper, yet such quiet beauty go unnoticed?  ADVERTISE!  KEEP THEM OPEN!  ALLOW THE FUNDING!  MAKE THE COMMITMENT!!

One thing should be emphasized to the Mayor - Detroit provides a $4,000,000
annual subsidy to the main zoo in Royal Oak - 2/3 of the zoo's visitors are not
Detroit residents. Essentially, City is providing a $4 subsidy for every zoo
visitor, (or $12 for every city resident). Most zoo visitors do not pay taxes
in the city, stop for gas in the city on their way to the zoo, go to
lunch/dinner in the city after visiting the zoo. In the same vein, Detroit
taxpayers, who are subsidizing everyone else, pay the same outrageous entry fee
(what is it now?) as all of the other visitors from communities which do not
support the zoo. These same communities DO reap the benefits of extra
visitors/revenue sources who are drawn into their communities by the zoo's

Why is it that at the first sign of a budget crunch, it is the City units of the
zoo which are cut? The City has been working hard to upgrade facilities overall
on Belle isle - Why is the zoo being permitted to sabotage these efforts with
City tax dollars?

It makes no sense.

It has caused both the American and the worldwide Conservation
                 bodies some concern to learn that they are thinking of robbing this
                 planet of one it's jewels by closing the Belle Isle Aquarium. If
                 indeed the City Fathers of Detroit are allowed to do this then may
                 I say that if they do, you will be taking away one of America's and
                 this worlds few remaining places were man has and is helping to
                 make amends for some of his mistakes. The work that they are doing
                 there is priceless, and believe you me I know what I am talking
                 about. It was the people who have and are working there that in
                 part gave me the inspiration almost a decade ago to start the "Fish
                 Ark Project" in the University of Morelia Mexico to help with the
                 Conservation of all freshwater species there. Also over the years
                 they have contributed greatly in the prevention of the extinctions
                 of many species. "Skiffia francsae" just to name one for example
                 owes it's continuing existence on this planet solely to the likes
                 of James Langhammer, Doug Sweet, both employees of Belle Isle, and
                 the good management of the  Belle Isle Aquarium. So please PLEASE
                 don't let them rob this planet of one of it's few havens of
                 Conservation, as we need more Not less places like this.
Thanking you in anticipation
Ivan H Dibble.
Tel No:- other Countries(44) for UK 1275 876666
Tel :- Within the UK 01275 876666
Mobile No 07729119441
Hobbyist Aqua Lab Conservation Project (HALCP)
Interested in Mexican Freshwater Fish or
Conservation. Then why not visit our web site
at:- or 
e-mail to:-

Dear Fellow Aquarium Lovers,

     My husband works for the city recreation department and has never
received any flyers in his paycheck for the aquarium! Also, he has worked for
the city 20 or so years and has never gotten a flyer!

What has the drop been in attendance at many 'tourist attractions' since the 
economy has soured and gasoline prices have soared.
   Okay, so maybe we cannot compare Belle Isle with Disney World or Universal 
Studios, but how about with the New England Aquarium or one similar?

Richard "Rit" Forcier
Chairman, Board of Directors
American Livebearer Association, Inc.

Posted on Friday, February 04, 2005 - 3:34 pm:     

1) The "Detroit Zoo" is NOT a phenomenal asset to Detroit, any more than
the "Detroit" Pistons are. Moneys spent by tourists in the area surrounding
the zoo are sepnt in Oakland County, which does not pay to support the zoo.
I know what you're thinking, "Oakland County taxpayers give money to the
state, and that money in part goes to the zoo!" Yep, of the $14 million
dollar annual budget, about $500,00-$600,000 comes form the state--the
ENTIRE state. The fact is that any economic impact felt by having the
Detroit Zoo is felt in the Royal Oak area. Do you honestly think that
anyone goes to the Zoo and then drives to the Big Bad City to eat dinner?

2)The Zoo is NOT the largest tourist attraction in Michigan. The Henry Ford
brings in 1.5 million visitors a year, the Zoo brings in just under 1
million. If you want to stretch it a little, the Cabela's store in Dundee,
Michigan, brings in 2.5 million visitors every year. Yes, that is a tourist
destination. If you don't believe that, look at their customer base
analysis. Look in their parking lot and RV park, and see how far people
drive to a town in the middle of nowhere to go there. Same can be said for
Great Lakes Crossing and the casinos. Tourist destination does not have the
same narrow meaning that it once did. And I can absolutely assure you that
ALL of those attractions contribute many, many times the amount of money to
the economy of Michigan than the Zoo does.

3)The Zoo does not bring millions of dollars in revenue to the State
annually. It does bring millions of dollars in revenue INTO the state (not
the government of Michigan, but the area). Of this revenue, the State of
Michigan gets a tiny fraction.

4)Belle Isle is not the attraction it once was? Sounds like a scared
suburbanite to me. Belle Isle draws 2-2.5 MILLION visitors annually. The
fact that the marketing efforts (or lack therof) are only able to capture a
tiny fraction of these visitors is a testimony to the neglect and
ineffectual nature of the efforts. By the way, there is a permanent Detroit
Police outpost on Belle Isle, and the island is regularly patrolled, every
day of the year.

5) Perhaps it is you who are blinded to who can keep the BIA open. The
mayor did not approach Ron Kagan and say "close the aquarium". He did say,
"You need to cut $X, figure out a way to do it". You have no idea of the
history or chain of events which went into this decision. Your only
perception of Dr. Kagan is through the media. And just because a person is
losing their job, doesn't mean that's the only reason to put up a fight. If
you investigated the value to DETROIT that this facility provides, not just
the money issue, you might see that. This is not about someone's personal
situation, but about the loss of history, notoriety, art, and conservation
and cultural value to the city. Ask yourself this: Why is the parks and
rec department of Detroit eager to maintain the attached Scripps
Conservatory? The tax cost to the city is higher on this building, the
building is in worse shape, charges no admission, has lower attendance than
the Aquarium, and has no educational or conservation programming. Do you
think it could be because the people in parks and rec value what the
Conservatory means to the overall cultural picture in Detroit? They would
never think of offering the facility up for closure. So, when you say that
this isn't the fault of one person, that it is a matter of lack of funds,
you are only partially right. Funds must be cut, but the mayor depends on
his directors to tell him where the cuts should come from. And when he gets
incorrect information ( and it is GROSSLY incorrect) based on someone's
personal and career goals, he will make wrong decisions. If you don't think
that is what happened here, it is you who needs to do more homework.

Dear Ms. Mahaffey and Detroit City Council Members,

I was sorry to hear of the recent decision to close the Belle Isle 
Aquarium.  Many natural resource educators have worked 
collaboratively with curator Doug Sweet for years.  The aquarium is 
truly a unique resource for residents in Michigan and throughout the 
Great Lakes. It is a gem and an important part of the City's 
historical landmarks.

I urge you to reconsider this decision to close the oldest free 
standing aquarium in the country.  Surely, there must be methods for 
securing alternative funding to keep this resource open for the 
thousands of students, teachers and others.


Elizabeth LaPorte

Mayor Kilpatrick 
City of Detroit
Executive Office
Coleman A. Young Municipal Center
2 Woodward Ave., Ste. 1126
Detroit, MI 48226

Dear Mayor Kilpatrick:

I owned a home in the City of Detroit for seven years
and, during that time, held 3 different full-time jobs
in the city. I visited Belle Isle with my family when
I was a child. Please do not trade the Belle Isle
Aquarium, a Detroit institution, for an over-hyped new
aquarium that does not even exist on paper.

A major factor in getting contributors or partners for
a new aquarium is the probability that a new aquarium
will be a major tourist attraction. Consider the Law
of Diminishing Returns - As new aquariums are added
around the country, each becomes more ordinary and
less worth the trip.

Big fish tanks right bait for cities: Appeal of
aquariums luring tourists to urban areas
By Marnie Hunter, CNN
Wednesday, February 19, 2003 Posted: 12:37 PM EST
(1737 GMT)
“The number of free-standing member aquariums in the
American Zoo and Aquarium Association has more than
doubled since 1989, jumping from 17 members that year
to 36 in 2001. At least 20 more facilities are in the
planning stages, said Sydney Butler, the association's
executive director.”

Detroit as a tourist attraction
- not near other major cities, like aquariums on the
East coast
- I75 and I94 do not take travelers past Detroit on
their way to other major cities or tourist

At the least, please consider the source of your
information and his track record. Dr. Ron Kagan has
opened a handful of new flashy exhibits at the MAIN
Zoo, but the financial condition of the zoo continues
to deteriorate.

Philip Kukulski

I want to save the aquarium because the fishes need a home and someone
to care.

Jacob age 8

divine child elementary school
I am 7 yrs.old, and i,ve been to the aquarium many times. 
My daddy always tells me he loves the aquarium and how 
his mom used to take him there all the time. 
Please don't close the aquarium. We love it very much. 
I think all the fish will be very sad to leave their home.

Venn Manor Condominium Association

4142 Cass, Suite 201

Detroit, MI 48201

February 17, 2005

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick

City of Detroit Executive Office

Coleman A. Young Municipal Center

2 Woodward Ave., Ste. 1126

Detroit, MI 48226

Your Honor Kwame Kilpatrick:

On February 16, 2005, the Board of the Venn Manor Condominium Association voted to support the effort to keep the Belle Isle Aquarium open.

 Our building, the Venn Manor, was built in 1904 and is a Detroit historic building. We, as co-owners of this elegant building, share the value of preserving Detroit’s heritage. Keeping the Belle Isle Aquarium open is a way of maintaining that heritage. The Aquarium is an irreplaceable landmark that has provided priceless educational experiences for the children of Detroit for over 100 years.

 The aquarium, designed by Albert Kahn with tile by Pewabic, is a Detroit masterpiece and a perfect companion to the late Victorian conservatory on Belle Isle. Such a gem must be maintained as a symbol of pride for the City of Detroit.   

 We want you to give a 120 grace period to the aquarium, which would allow an in-depth review of the closing.

 The board was unanimous in our vote to ask you to reconsider your plan to close the Aquarium.


Sandra A. Novacek, President

Venn Manor Condominium Association

cc:       Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium

            Members of Detroit City Council

            Jennifer Granholm, Governor, State of Michigan

The Board of Directors of the Sherwood Forest Association, an historic 
neighborhood in northwest Detroit, voted unanimously at its February 
meeting to support efforts to insure the continuing operation of the 
Belle Isle Aquarium.  Detroit cannot afford to lost another 
architectural  treasure.

While we understand that the City is facing severe economic 
difficulties, we urge the Mayor and Detroit City Council to keep the 
aquarium open while the aquarium's many friends in this region explore 
ways to assist the City in finding the funds to save the oldest 
continuously operating public aquarium in North America.   


                                                                                    January 28, 2005

Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick             Ron Kagan, Ph.D., Director

City of Detroit                                                Detroit Zoological Institute

1126 CAYMC                                                PO Box 39

Detroit MI 48226                                           Royal Oak MI 48068


Dear Mayor Kilpatrick  and Dr. Kagan:


            On behalf of the Friends of Belle Isle, this is to protest the sudden and appalling closure of the Belle Isle Aquarium.


            Like closing of the Belle Isle Zoo, this completely ignores the needs of the citizens of Detroit, especially school children, who have benefited from the opportunity to enjoy and learn about marine animals and fish in an historic and beautiful building.


            Since 2001, the Zoological Institute has taken over the Nature Center and closed it (albeit with promises of reopening it), closed the Belle Isle Zoo, and now is closing the Aquarium.  We are at a loss to understand how the Institute and the City can close this wonderful facility while giving only promises of a new one on the Riverfront.

The Friends remain ever hopeful that instead of protesting closures of our City’s treasured landmarks, we can work with you for their preservation.



                                                                                    Mary M. Waterstone



cc:       Zoological Commission: S. Martin Taylor, President; Ruth R.  Glancy;   Cynthia Ford; Burton Farbman

Detroit City Council: Maryann Mahaffey, President; Kenneth V. Cockrel, President Pro Tem

February 14, 2005

Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick             Ron Kagan, Ph.D., Director

City of Detroit                                                Detroit Zoological Institute

1126 CAYMC                                                PO Box 39

Detroit MI 48226                                           Royal Oak MI 48068


Dear Mayor Kilpatrick and Dr. Kagan:

            The Board of the Friends of Belle Isle appreciates Dr. Kagan’s response to my letter of January 28, 2005, opposing the decision to close the Belle Isle Aquarium.

            We, however,  remain adamantly opposed to the closing. We take issue with several of the “justifications” set forth in Dr. Kagan’s letter.


1)         He states that the closing will save the City $500,000 in costs, though fails to mention the $145,000 in revenue.  This revenue rose 6 percent in 2004 and is up 9 percent so far this year. 


2)         He says that “City residents/taxpayers have voted on this issue with their attendance,” and points out that in 2000, there were 86,000 visitors to the Aquarium and, in 2004, 53,000 (an approximate 35 percent drop).  If this a valid reason, then the Royal Oak Zoo should be closed as well, since it had a 400,000 drop in visitors from 1.4 million in 2000 to 1 million in 2004 (an approximate 30 percent drop). 


Further, attendance at the Aquarium has remained stable in the last two years.  Also, Dr. Kagan’s figures fail to take into account the closing of the Belle Isle Zoo in 2001, as many people came to visit both attractions in one trip.


3)         Dr. Kagan describes “looming capital costs to properly maintain the facilities,” and says that “significant capital investment might be necessary” to stabilize the physical structure.  It appears to us that, if true, this is due to the lack of spending for capital improvements for many years.  In the last ten years, the Zoological Society has raised more than $38 million dollars, which has been devoted entirely to the Royal Oak Zoo.  If even a small percentage had been spent annually on the historic Aquarium building, it would not now be in need of the substantial investment he mentions.  Incidentally, we understand that the $600,000 Dr. Kagan cites, not only stabilized the flooring structure for 20 years, it also included painting, as well as lead paint and asbestos abatement.


`       If there is not enough money available to keep this Aquarium open, where will the millions of dollars for the promised new “state of the art” facility come from?


4)         Dr. Kagan speaks eloquently of the $100 million impact of a new “state of the art” Aquarium on the Riverfront.  However, there is no such Aquarium now.  Why should the City have no Aquarium, unless and until Dr. Kagan realizes his dream for a “Riverfront Aquarium.”  Also, he fails to note that the current Aquarium, since August 18, 2003, has been visited by the citizens of 99 foreign nations, 49 of the 50 United States, 3 United States Territories, and 65 of Michigan’s 83 counties.  Why should the city have no such attraction until Dr. Kagan’s dream is a reality?


If and when such a new Aquarium is realized, then potential use of the Belle Isle Aquarium could be explored.  This could especially take into account the “outstanding conservation work” that has occurred at the Aquarium.


Since it has been several years since the Belle Isle Zoo closed (in 2001), and the opening of the “multi-million dollar nature zoo” Dr. Kagan describes does not appear to be imminent, it would seem likely that at least as long would be required for a new “state of the art” Aquarium.  For that period there will be no Aquarium in Detroit!


5)  Dr. Kagan speaks of “several marketing and public relations efforts, including press announcements, partnerships with Coca Cola, media shoots, celebrations which included a 100th Anniversary Party last year and special events.”  We are at a loss to understand this statement since the marketing of the Aquarium has been minimal, at best.


a)     The only mention of the Aquarium on the Zoo’s website is through a series of menu selections which ultimately reveal the Aquarium’s location, hours of operation and admission fees.  No other information about exhibits, history, or programs is provided.  How could people know about the new exhibits he mentions?


b)     The Zoo’s website contains an archive that has all press releases since January 2001.  Of the 190 press releases, only two related to the Aquarium, one for the shark birth and the other for the closing.  Further, the standardized information attached to the end of every press release does not mention anything about the Aquarium.  There were no press releases about the “new exhibits, like the sea horses and saltwater fish” Dr. Kagan mentions.


c)      The “Coca Cola Partnership” cited promoted the Shark Tale movie.  The large cardboard stand-up displaying Coca Cola and  Shark Tale art had only a small text relating to the Aquarium along with discount tickets.  This does not constitute a major partnership.


d)     He mentions “media shoots.”  As we understand it, there was one shoot per year at the Aquarium.  The others were for the Royal Oak Zoo.  Also, it is not clear to what the “Media One shoot” mentioned involved.


e)     The Aquarium used to be a part of the Senior Free Day Program.  For the past several years, this promotion was only at the Royal Oak Zoo.  The Aquarium was specifically excluded. (We understand at the request of Royal Oak Staff). 


f)        As for the 100th Anniversary Celebration, the Aquarium simply “piggybacked” on the efforts by the City Recreation Department and the Belle Isle Botanical Society. There were pony rides, food vendors, musical acts and souvenirs celebrating the Conservatory’s 100th Anniversary.  The Zoo sent a small merchandise cart featuring Aquarium shirts (no mention of the 100th Anniversary) and items such as coffee mugs, which advertised the Royal Oak Zoo.  (This contrasts with the major celebration for the Royal Oak Zoo’s 75th Anniversary, which spanned an entire year, and was well promoted for that year).


g)     There was a Fox 2 promotion at the Aquarium for “Where in the World is Lee.”  The prize was movie tickets.  This was not an Aquarium promotion or special event.  We are aware of no other “special events for the Aquarium” that was mentioned. 

Dr. Kagan closes his letter by saying, “We hope you will join us in our quest to bring Detroit the new Belle Isle Nature Zoo, as well as a new Aquarium.”  I remind Dr. Kagan that he has never included the Friends of Belle Isle in his planning, despite our requests to be included.  We can only assume that had he truly wanted us to “join,” he would have asked – or at least responded to the request  made orally to Mr. Shawn Stinton in November 2003.  (The gentleman sent in Dr. Kagan’s place, when he was the scheduled Main Speaker at our 2003 Annual Meeting).  Per Mr. Stinton’s direction, a formal request by e-mail was  sent to him.  The Friends have never heard from anyone at the Zoo.


            The Friends of Belle Isle are deeply concerned about the closing of this readily available and important resource for Detroit citizens, especially school children.  While the Belle Isle Nature Zoo and new Aquarium remain merely promises, our Detroit citizens must “do without.”




                                                                                    Mary M. Waterstone




cc:       Zoological Commission: S. Martin Taylor, President; Ruth R. Glancy,   Cynthia Ford, Burton Farbman

Detroit City Council: Maryann Mahaffey, President; Kenneth V. Cockrel, President Pro Tem; Alonzo Bates, Sheila M. Cockrel, Sharon McPhail, Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, JoAnn Watson





February 16, 2005

Honorable Members of the Detroit City Council

As former Head Planner of the Detroit Recreation Department, and longtime advocate for Belle Isle and Riverfront Development, I am deeply disturbed by the announcement that the Belle Isle Aquarium will be closed at the end of this month.  I understand the financial problems that are leading to this decision, but it is a bad recreational, cultural and economic decision for the citizens of Detroit and Michigan.   I am particularly disturbed because there was insufficient notice of this action and thus insufficient time for the community to join with the City, other levels of government, and the Zoological Society, to find economically viable solutions that would keep the Aquarium open.   Based on 30 years of waterfront and urban planning experience, I believe we can put together a public-private partnership that will support this important institution and reduce some of the economic burden on the City.  


I’m sure you have received a variety of letters and e-mails and I certainly appreciate this opportunity for some of the Aquarium supporters to appear before you.  I think you can see from the protests and actions initiated so far, that our community -and also people outside the metropolitan area- do care.  If you check the “Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium” website, there are hundreds of messages, and many people who would like to help. There are a variety of solutions on the Friends website that should be considered for short-run and long run viability of the Aquarium.   Not all the solutions are realistic, but some certainly are!   Not all the criticisms of the decision are fair, but many certainly are!  Two weeks more is an insufficient time to gather the financial information and support necessary to jointly find a way to maintain the operations of this 101-year-old institution, one that provides important recreational and educational experiences for our residents and attracts visitors to Belle Isle and Detroit.


Speaking as a practical planner concerned with the economic and development implications of this action as well as the loss it would be for recreational opportunities in our community, it is the wrong decision at the wrong time!  Some have spoken of a new Aquarium at another riverfront location. But if we are to relocate this function, and find an alternative suitable use for this beautiful historic building, this should take place when there is a new Aquarium in place, not now!  It would be at least five years before such a new building could be designed and constructed-- once massive capital financing and long-term operational support could be located.  Meanwhile, we would have lost a major community resource, destroyed another important part of our community’s history, and by dispersing the valuable specimens we have in the Aquarium (even moving some to possible extinction) we would have made it significantly more difficult to open such a new facility.


I ask you to reconsider the proposed Aquarium closing on February 28th and provide the funding to keep it open, at least for another six months. While the City and the Zoological Society have the major responsibility for locating the funds, the citizens will join with these two sponsoring agencies in the challenging task of finding a viable economic solution.  There needs to be sufficient time to meet that challenge.  We have a gem in our Aquarium.  It needs to be polished, not thrown out.  It needs to be protected, not destroyed.  It needs everyone’s help – and your support now.


cc:     Honorable Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick; Dr. Ron Kagan, Director, Detroit Zoo;

          Mrs. Ruth Glancy, Chairwoman, Detroit Zoological Society

January 31, 2005

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Honorable Councilpersons
Coleman A. Young Municipal Center
Detroit, Michigan 48226

Dear Mayor Kilpatrick and Honorable Councilpersons,

As the president of the non-profit Belle Isle Botanical Society I wish to express my dismay at the announcement of the closing the Belle Isle Aquarium and the fast pace in which the fish and other aquatic animals are being moved out of the building. It is our understanding that the facility will be closed by March 1.

The conservatory and aquarium were connected prior to the 1980s and once acted as a unified facility. Although run by different departments, they still share a basement and heating system. Both of these buildings were designed by Albert Kahn and built in 1904, dedicated on August 18 of that year. The Belle Isle Botanical Society and Detroit Recreation Department funded and celebrated the 100th birthday of both these facilities this past August with a day long party of games, food, music, clowns, a parade, and baseball that stretched from the ball diamonds to the band shell. Little did we know that this great facility, the Aquarium, would soon be shuttered.

The Belle Isle Botanical Society was founded in 1988 as a volunteer support group for the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. We raise funds for the restoration and maintenance of the conservatory and gardens. Through a lot of hard work and volunteer’s hours, we restored the once closed lily pond, between the conservatory and aquarium, to its former glory. On summer weekends, our volunteer group continues to garden and maintain the lily pond. The aquarium “summers” many of their unusual species of fish in the lily pond to the delight of visitors. The Aquarium is always packed on the weekends, not only with people having picnics on the island, but visitors from other countries as well as people visiting from surrounding areas.

Our organization has also recently embarked on an educational program, a Science Learning Lab, at the conservatory. We have hosted over 2,000 school-aged children from the metro Detroit area, 1,200 of these children were from the Detroit Public School Summer Day Camp. They have been involved in this program for the past two summers. When the children are through with our program in the conservatory, they literally run over to the Aquarium and love to see the fish and especially the electric eel exhibit. During the week the parking lot is full of buses of school children. There are many schools that bring classes to the Aquarium throughout the school year, as it is a great educational resource for students and visitors of all ages. It is truly another historic gem in the crown of Detroit. I am enclosing a letter from Starr Elementary School in Royal Oak that participated in our Science Learning Lab, which points out the interdependence of the two facilities as educational tools.

I am very sorry that the Zoo has once again seen fit to close another of it attractions on Belle Isle. The Belle Isle Zoo and the Nature Center were both closed within the past three years. We need these types of facilities on Belle Isle to not only attract residents and visitors to the island park, but to provide educational, historic and fun places for people of all ages. While waning attendance has been offered as a reason for closing the Aquarium, the $4 charge for adults and $3 charge for children can also be blamed for the reduced attendance The Conservatory is still open daily. It may end up being the only facility left on the island that is open full time, as the Dossin Museum is only accessible to the public on weekends.

As a resident of Detroit and representative of the Belle Isle Botanical Society, I realize that the city is going through very hard economic times. However, I do not think the budget should be balanced on the backs of school children and educational opportunities. I hope the Zoo will not further abandon Detroit for its suburban location. I hope that you, as Mayor and Councilpersons, will be able to help keep this great, historic aquarium open and be its advocate. It seems that the Zoo should embark on a fund-raising campaign to upgrade and maintain this jewel rather than building a big, costly facility on the riverfront.

The Aquarium is already on the riverfront. It is on Belle Isle.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely yours,

Janice Ellison
Belle Isle Botanical Society

Cc: Zoological Commission: S. Martin Taylor, President, Ruth R. Glancy, Cynthia Ford, Burton Farbman

March 10, 2005

Dear Ms. Lin:

 I’d like to comment on your article about the Belle Isle Aquarium closing. It’s sad to see another Detroit landmark disappear. We’ve lost so many. My hat’s off to the Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium as they climb a long, steep hill. Trying to collect “nickel & dime” contributions from a public faced with rising costs, shrinking wages, and, like me, unemployment is a very undaunted task. Will they succeed? I doubt it. The thing they

need is BIG money.

We in the Detroit Metro area have just that. We have four professional sports teams that are supported very nicely by the people of Detroit and surrounding area. We know they have ample funds. They more then comment about their spending in the news: “I’ll spend until Tigers win,” and the Lions hired two players for $20 million over 3-5 years. Wouldn’t it be nice if our four sports organizations returned some of that support to the city that bears their first name to preserve our city and our nations history?

Since these are sports organizations, they have players. Wouldn’t they like to preserve history in their community? Sure they would. The vast majority of these players are multi-millionaires whose lavish lifestyle is furnished by Metro Detroiters who fill the seats of the coliseums and purchase team merchandise. Maybe it’s time to give something back to this community, and what a more fitting way to do it. Even ½% of their millions would assure worry free operations of the aquarium for decades to come.

(And, if the Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium were smart, which I think they are, they would place all excess in an endowment earmarked for the Belle Isle Aquarium so any future maintenance problems will be met. Also, have this endowment written in such a manner that the City of Detroit cannot access these funds for other than maintenance. I’m sure one of the pro sports owners can have one of their financial lawyers aid in the proper wording.)

Here are two new markets, with money, that the Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium should explore. Upon there success, a bronze plaque thanking the organizations and contributing players should be presented to team representatives in a small ceremony. And that would be a touching ending to a successful campaign.

This idea will go far if presented in the proper way. Please consider distributing where it will have the best visibility. Thank you.


James N. Milke

I am a Canadian residing in Windsor, ON, Canada across the Detroit River
from Detroit, MI and I want to donate to help try and save the Belle Isle
Aquarium.  I am appalled and think it is absolutely ridiculous to even
consider closing such a valuable and rare jewel!  It is a boon to the
Metro Detroit area!

Though born and raised in Windsor, your beautiful Belle Isle park with
its little zoo, aquarium and gardens were a wonderful part of my
childhood memories of growing up in this area, not to mention my adult
ones as well.  I cannot donate very much as my funds are extremely
limited as I am unemployed as I am somewhat disabled, and I cannot donate
through the website as I do not have access to a credit card, however, I
was wondering if I could snail mail an International Money Order to you?
Would that be ok?  I'm sorry that it can't be very much, but, it takes
many, many drops to fill a whole bucket, so to speak, and I believe that
every little bit, no matter how small, helps, don't you you?   Please get
back to me with an address of where to send my donation asap, I would
appreciate it very much, thank you.  I am not sur if there is a deadline
but I would like to beat it if at all possible.


Mrs. Mary ('Mare") Moore
Windsor, ON, Canada
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can
change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." ~ Margaret
Mead, American Anthropologist (1901 - 1978)

Dear Mayor of Detroit,

Let me introduce myself first. I'm a 32 year old living in Germany and I
visited your city twice now in the past 2 years.
Last year I went to Detroit with a friend of mine to visit the Belle Island
We had a very nice stay there and enjoyed watching the fishes there.

Now I just heard from this friend, that you are planning to close down the
Belle Island Aquarium.
And on this matter I want to state my disagreement with your plan there.
Closing a 100 year old institution only for financial reasons isn't only
shortsighted, since you'll kill a place of Detroit's culture. It might only
be one small place, but it has formed also the image of Detroit together
with all the other highlights. You shut down a place like this and Detroit
will lose a portion of its identity.

But also the work of the FOBIA group should prove that if the aquarium is
promoted a bit and would be lead efficiently, it can be financially self
sufficient and no burden to the city's finances (or how you'd probably say
the taxpayer's money).

Of course I can only speak to you out of a thousand miles distance and
without knowing all the facts, but you can believe me that we have had
similar cases in Germany also. And from all similar cases I know of I don't
know any that wasn't a big mistake because it was a loss of culture and
identity to the city, and even new projects couldn't make up for that loss.

On another sidenote I heard that there are elections coming up, and even I
know that this whole matter doesn't give you the best publicity. Also I
can't imagine the people will be that stupid that they'll forget this in
half a year.

Well, I'm not someone who can vote in that election or even living in the
USA, so probably I won't have a lot of impact on you, but still I'd like to
be able to still visit Belle Island Aquarium again, if I should visit my
friend again in Michigan. So I'd appreciate if you would reconsider your
decision there and listen to the FOBIA memebers and all the people of
Detroit who support them. Who knows, maybe I'll even get a reply from you.

Kind regards

Carsten Lenniger

Good morning,
I'd really like to renew my family's membership as the Detroit Zoo has been a very
important part of our lives since we moved to the area in 2001 (we joined the zoo on
our first day in our new home, even before we moved our furniture!), but my
disappointment about your decision to close the Belle Isle Aquarium has led me to
question my annual investment in the DZS.  I am deeply concerned that the DETROIT
Zoological Sociey seems to value its Royal Oak location over the facilities actually
in the city of Detroit.  I know the city has a $230 million deficit, but I simply
cannot understand why the DZS and the city won't work with the Friends of the Belle
Isle Aquarium to keep it open.  After all, if they are willing to pay the city to
lease it, what's the harm in that?  I have written to the DZS and the mayor about
this already, and since I've read your press releases numerous times, please do not
send me another one of those as a response.  Rather, if you value my family's 4+
years of membership, please seek to keep the Aquarium open and realize that the city
of Detroit cannot afford to lose what few family-centered cultural and historical
venues it still has.  Detroit was once one of the most important cities in the
country if not the world, and we have become but a shell of that; as the leading
tourist attraction in the area, you have a duty to help us retain some of our former
history and dignity!
Yours truly,
Sarah and family

Letter in the Detroit Free Press, 04/10/05

Shame on Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick -- an opportunity to demonstrate a little compassion for the little people blown. All things are not about dollars and cents. The Belle Isle Aquarium is about Detroit, Detroiters and memories of Detroit. You can't put dollars and cents on memories, unless it's to say that it's priceless.

That aquarium is unique to Detroit. It may not have all the bells and whistles of other big-city aquariums, but it's not intended to be. It's a jewel on a jewel.

This is not about nostalgia or a longing for the good old days. This is about a simple bit of history (101 years old) that continues to make memories -- one visit at a time. This aquarium is not for the world, although we share it with the world. This aquarium is about Detroit and Detroiters.

We don't want or need a big shiny, world-class aquarium. Why is it so difficult to get across the idea that new and bigger is not always better?

Ivory D. Williams