Great Lakes Aquarium plagued by money woes
DULUTH -- The city has formed a task force to save the
Great Lakes Aquarium after attendance and revenue have
been about 22 percent below projections at the 2-year-old
Steep pay cuts and layoffs were expected this month,
leaving the $34 million aquarium's staff a fraction
of the size it was when it opened in the summer of 2000.
The aquarium is expected to be several hundred thousand
dollars off its earlier projections to take in $2.9
million in 2002, which already was down about $1.6
million from last year, according to its budget.
The aquarium still has $250,000 in unpaid construction
As part of the agreement between the city and the nonprofit
organization that runs the aquarium, the city can take
over operations if the aquarium is unable to make bond
payments. The city and the Duluth Convention and Visitors
Bureau had to pay the aquarium's annual $238,000
bond payment last February when money fell short. The
city's $219,000 portion came from the tourism
Aquarium officials have secured a bank loan in case they
come up short again, but the city has backed that loan
as well. That payment, about $240,000, is due in February.
Already at stake for taxpayers is about $6 million
in bonds backed by the city and the Duluth Economic Development
One possibility would be to pair aquarium tickets with
other area attractions to boost attendance such as the
Lake Superior Zoo, the Omnimax and the Vista Fleet. Or
the aquarium could seek a state subsidy.
Aquarium president Ann Glumac said the attraction deserves
public support, like the Science Museum of Minnesota,
the Minnesota Historical Society and zoos.
If the aquarium did seek state money, Glumac said it
probably would be to pay for the attraction's education
department, which has an annual budget of about $250,000.
State Rep. Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the chance
of the aquarium securing any state money is nearly zero
this year. The state is facing a budget shortfall of 10
percent to 15 percent.
Glumac said bankruptcy or closure aren't being discussed.
In the meantime, aquarium officials are continuing their
long-range plan to improve the attraction, boost revenue
and increase community support.
They have done discount programs for families and seniors,
increased billboard usage, put rack cards in tourist stops,
sent weekly e-mails to local hotels about events and been
more savvy in using the media to promote events and programs.
The aquarium board has discussed adding saltwater exhibits
for more pizzazz, such as bringing in a shark to compare
it with a sturgeon.
"Everything is open for discussion," Glumac said.