FOBIA Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium
PUBLISHED: March 14, 2005
Let's start with one real close to home: the Belle Isle Aquarium.
Unless a big donor steps up soon, the oldest operating aquarium in North America will close April 3.
And this is the city that will host the NFL's Super Bowl at Ford Field and Major League baseball's All-Star game at Comerica Park. But it has no money to keep the doors open at the historic aquarium where school children learn about marine life.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick says the city's bleak financial status and falling attendance at the aquarium are the leading causes of having to resort to such drastic action.
In announcing the pending closing of the 101-year-old aquarium, Howard Hughey, a spokesman for the mayor, said the cost of operating the aquarium at $530,000 was an overwhelming drain on Detroit's finances. Hughey said time has run out and the city must pull the plug on the treasured landmark.
But that announcement came as a surprise to Kate Alan, president of the Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium. Alan told a newspaper that her group had begun discussions with Detroit's chief administrative officer, Derrick Miller, about rescuing the aquarium.
Hopefully, Alan and her group will get the message through that the public is tired of the flimsy excuses government agencies come up with to cover failed management.
Officials lament that the aquarium's attendance dropped from 113,000 in 1995 to 56,000 last year, and that with so much less in admission revenue the city has no other recourse but to close the aquarium. They are way off base.
My niece, Sharon Broglin, remembers visiting the aquarium during school trips while a student at the Beard School in Detroit. It left such a lasting impression she attended last month's rally to save the aquarium.
And she offers some sound advice: "First, they closed the Children's Zoo, now they want to close the aquarium. What's next? And what about school trips for the children in Detroit's schools? What about their impressions of learning about marine life at the oldest continuing aquarium in North America?"
For Sharon, history and traditions are an integral part of life and the kind of society we want.
In her spare time after work and caring for her family, Sharon serves as director of the Allen Park Museum.
She is right about saving the Belle Isle Aquarium. If we let Kilpatrick drain the aquarium, what's next?
Come on, Mr. Mayor, recruit a corporate-thinking management team to run Belle Isle, increase its security and run it like a business. In fact, go the full length and develop the same corporate team concept to manage and guide the Detroit Zoo and the historic Fort Wayne Military Reservation, parked along the banks of the Detroit River in southwest Detroit, pleading for care and renovation.
The public has grown weary of the failings of government, especially the handful of public-owned sites shuttered because of poor government management. When it comes to managing the city's public parks, Belle Isle, the Detroit Zoo and Fort Wayne Military Reservation, the best must be the priority.
For an update on the fight to save the aquarium, visit www.belleisleaquarium.com.
If the aquarium is closed, will the other public edifices be next because management has a right to mismanage?
While we mothball such gems, the city is trying to brighten its image for the 2005 All-Star game and the Super Bowl, and at whatever the cost.
But for Detroit school children, field trips to the Belle Isle Aquarium may be scrubbed.
The city said it's too costly.
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