- 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

No life preserver for landmark
Belle Isle Aquarium fans say goodbye to an institution that Detroit can't afford.

Monday, April 4, 2005

Brandy Baker / The Detroit News

Lorenz Magaard-Romano browses the exhibits at the Belle Isle Aquarium on Sunday, the Detroit institution's last day.


DETROIT -- Hundreds of guests packed the Belle Isle Aquarium on Sunday to get a last glimpse of the 101-year-old attraction before it closed its doors for the final time.

Sisters Claudia Sherwood and Marion Morris, both of Ypsilanti, believe the closing will discourage people from coming to the city.

"This is sickening," Morris said. "They should preserve this. This is awesome."

Detroit is closing the aquarium to help cut a $200 million deficit. The city expects to save more than $500,000 annually from its closing.

The aquarium, the oldest continuously operating public aquarium in North America, is in a building designed by famed architect Albert Kahn. It was open all year and housed freshwater stingrays, coral reef fish, electric eels and other aquatic animals.

Aretha Turner was hoping that the city would have a change of heart. Turner came to the aquarium Sunday to say goodbye, but she and others were hoping it would get a last-minute reprieve.

"Hopefully, somebody will walk through today with some power," Turner said. "We don't have many cultural things in Detroit."

Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium still are working to save it and are pushing the city to let them lease the building as a nonprofit organization.

They have landed several big donations, including $10,000 from Yazaki North America and $2,500 from the Greektown Casino.

But interest in the aquarium has declined over the years. In 1995, 113,000 people visited the aquarium at Belle Isle, the city's island park. In 2000, attendance fell to 86,000, and only 56,000 people visited last year.

But the aquarium was averaging about 2,000 people a day in its final days, said Vance Patrick, who handles corporate donations and funding for Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium.

Patrick's son Spencer, 8, helped his dad hand out fliers and sell wooden fish to raise money to save the aquarium.

Spencer said he was helping "so people can be inspired about why fish are a part of our lives."

Fred Bryson of River Rouge came Sunday for a final visit and said he wished the city could have cut elsewhere in the budget so the attraction could remain open.

"I hope Kwame (Mayor Kilpatrick) is happy," said Bryson. "Somebody should step forward."

George Bracy, 62, of Detroit, agreed. He took the opportunity Sunday to show his two grandchildren the aquarium for the first time.

"I am sure they could find a way," Bracy said.

You can reach Christine MacDonald at (313) 222-2269 or cmacdonald@detnews.com.