By Peter Passi, Forum News Service, Published September 29 2013
Duluth aquarium plans upgrades
With the help of a $200,000 Legacy Grant from the state of Minnesota and an additional $50,000 in matching money from Duluth’s tourism tax, the aquarium plans a new exhibit exploring what becomes of shipwrecks in both freshwater and saltwater settings.
At $423,000, the “Shipwrecks Alive” exhibit will be one of the priciest in the aquarium’s history and will replace “Masters of Disguise,” which has been on display since 2010.
Slated to open next July, it’s just the latest reinvestment in a facility that critics had all but written off as a failure several years ago.
The aquarium also plans to spend another $265,000 to turn what had been catering facilities into additional educational space. The aquarium will gain three new classrooms and a teacher resource center as a result.
All told, about $688,000 will be pumped in over the next year or two.
The pending flurry of activity represents an acceleration of recent investments in the aquarium. It will exceed the $646,000 spent on all new exhibits in the past five years, said Jack LaVoy, the aquarium’s executive director.
Jim Stauber, now serving out the final year of his third term on the Duluth City Council, wasn’t yet in office when $16 million in state bonding money for the $33 million aquarium were approved in 1998. But he recalls expectations for the new facility were unreasonably rosy.
“The projections were that it would attract 400,000-plus visitors per year, and that was probably four times larger than was realistic,” he said.
The aquarium is on track to host 125,000 to 127,000 visitors this year.