Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Groundbreaking for Downtown Aquarium Not Particularly Fishy

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 9:19 AM

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When the hosts of Monday’s “groundbreaking” for the new aquarium to be built in the Powerhouse at Nautica invited the assembled mob to return in six months for its opening, most were likely hoping that that will be a more exciting event.

The press conference featured a row of speakers that resembled Governor Kasich’s cabinet — white guys in suits — who spoke with the pizzazz of a comptroller presenting a financial report. Some posters and a slide show were scattered around the Riverview Room at Windows on the River, but the presentation itself lacked even a basic PowerPoint show or any video depicting the splashy interactive facilities New Zealand-based developer Marinescape has built in places like Sydney, Beijing, and St. Petersburg. Even handfuls of plastic fish on the tables would have jazzed up the event a little.

Only a representative from Marinescape, which is already working on site in the Powerhouse, talked about the aquarium itself. Unfortunately, his mic went out shortly after he started to speak, so you had to strain to hear him describe things like a tank in which visitors will be able to swim with six-foot sharks. Other speakers, like Jacobs Investment head Jeff Jacobs and an executive from First Energy, talked about development and finances, and described in general terms the potential for the aquarium to anchor more downtown growth, and thanked a bunch of people.

Questions about the project’s viability remain in the air — they’re going to build a complete world-class aquarium in six months? They’re going to charge only $14 admission for one of the most expensive types of facilities to maintain? But the fact that Jacobs has taken on all the risk himself instead of sticking taxpayers with the bill is hopefully an indication that the financial projections are solid.

Oh, that groundbreaking? No ground was broken — elements of the project’s logo were placed on a display board as the guys in suits massed around it for a staged photo op. — Anastasia Pantsios

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