More than half of respondents (55 percent) said that ticket prices need to lowered before the aquarium can expect increased attendance. Twenty-two percent voted that an increase in the facility's size is the most pressing improvement. Fifteen percent felt that better exhibits would draw larger crowds, and a small fraction voted for "increased hours of operation."
For my part, voting was a real challenge, having visited the Aquarium and experienced a total re-introduction to the word "underwhelmed." The genius of the poll was that you could only select one option; otherwise, everyone would likely vote for everything (with the possible exception of "increased hours of operation." I mean, who's going to the aquarium at dawn?)
Right now, they're robbing folks blind. Adult general admission tickets are $20. Kiddies are $14. That's an evening at the cinema (with 3D surcharge and refreshment), or a respectable meal at someplace trendy. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, for instance, charges $12.25 and $8.25 for adults and children (during the summer months) and Mondays are always free. Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, among the nation's best, charges only $8 for general admission. (Premium tickets with access to special exhibits cost a lot more, but still).
"I love aquariums and wanted to be there," said a local twentysomething about her Cleveland aquarium experience, "and I had to really work to stay for 45 minutes."
"People will always bitch about the price," an Aquarium employee testified via Facebook message.
The problem isn't the price alone. The problem is that the price isn't commensurate with the entertainment value. The Powerhouse is actually a really nice venue for a smallish aquarium and the New Zealand aquarium designers Marinescape NZ Unlimited did a nice job with that walk-through tunnel thing. It's not like there are tons of fish or the tanks are all that big, but the physical space is variegated enough for a sort of 15-minute casual exploration.
But it's preposterous to charge a premium rate for a fledgling operation which on one hand is still working out its kinks and on the other will never be a major aquatic spectacle. Why not institute a Free Day like the zoo? Why not bolster attendance through other promotions — B.O.G.O.s for everyone under 30? Why not straight up cut the ticket price in half?
General Manager Tammi Brown told the PD that attendance dropoffs are common in second years of operation. She said the aquarium is right around where they intended to be, attendance wise.
Well, good for them. But if the PD poll is any indication, the aquarium could be (and ought to be) a much more popular, worthwhile attraction in the city. Without improvements, all this aquarium will do is sink.