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Old 08-07-2002, 11:32 PM   #1
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I found this article about the Ripleys Aquarium!

I was looking through the archives for the Springfield News Leader for Monday and ran across this story.! I hope this comes to Branson

Aug. 4, 2002
Aquarium developer studying lakefront
Meanwhile, Branson officials are urging patience on convention center.

By Kathryn Buckstaff

Branson - With residents hoping the city holds out for a lakefront attraction that
has awesome atmosphere,a development company is eyeing the site for an

Jim Pattison, executive vice president of Ripley's Aquariums, said during a visit to
Branson last week that the company will soon conduct a feasibility study on the
lakefront, an area he called real spectacular spot.

We don't have enough information to say yet whether Branson would be a large
enough market for us, but it's been a very successful market over the years,he

I was very impressed with the city acquiring all the land in that area.

City officials, who earlier had entertained plans for a lakefront development
centered on a convention center, are prepared to move forward without a deal for
a convention center pinned down, said City Administrator Terry Dody.

The key from the beginning was redevelopment of the lakefront,Dody said.

There's no magic about the lakefront being developed with a convention center. A
convention center will work in several places in the city.

Dody said his meeting with Pattison was real positive. City funds toward the
project have not been discussed.

It's too early to consider any potential impact of a Branson aquarium attraction on
the American National Fish and Wildlife Museum, Wonders of Wildlife, in
Springfield, said public relations manager Sandy Z. Poneleit. The museum opened
in November 2001.

We have at WOW a $52 million state-of-the-art museum with live and interactive
exhibits, including freshwater and saltwater aquaria, Poneleit said.

We have no idea what Ripley's Aquarium might propose for Branson, so it would
be speculative to say whether such a facility would be competition.

Ripley's, best known for its Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Museums, has proved its
credibility as an aquarium operator by developing first-class facilities and hiring top
marine biologists, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

Their saltwater aquarium that opened in 1997 on Myrtle Beach's Grand Strand
draws more than a million visitors annually and is one of South Carolina's top
tourist attractions.

It is definitely an asset to the community, said Holley Aufdemorte, spokeswoman
for the Myrtle Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Myrtle Beach also has a Ripley's museum, Ripley's Haunted Adventure and
Ripley's Moving Theater, she said. Last year, 13.7 million people visited the area.

They're very community-minded, Aufdemorte said.

Ripley's offer a variety of educational programs and seasonal special events. That
makes them a repeat destination for visitors, she said. In 1999, the aquarium won
the South Carolina's Governor's Cup Award for best travel destination,
Aufdemorte said.

In 2000, Ripley's opened Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

While in Myrtle Beach, the facility was entirely funded by Ripley's, Pattison said
the city, county and state put up about $20 million in infrastructure work in

Ripley's spent $50 million on the aquarium. In 2001, the museum attracted 2
million visitors, Pattison said.

Pattison said he expects a decision will be made in the next few months or sooner.

If we have an interest, we will certainly explore it quickly, Pattison said.

An aquarium would be a good match as Branson tries to develop attractions that
appeal to families and younger tourists.

We're pure family,” Pattison said. Everybody enjoys looking at fish. Even a baby
in a stroller.

The educational aspect of an aquarium also draws families and young visitors, he

One popular program in Gatlinburg is the Sleep With The Sharks program.

Visitors get to sleep overnight inside the main attraction: a 340-foot-long acrylic
tunnel submerged in 700,000 of water that is home to sharks, eels and tropical fish.

Delay has little impact

Over the past 10 years in Branson, several developers have proposed big
attractions and convention centers that did not come to fruition.

So when a final development deal with an Australian-based consortium for
Branson Landing fell apart last December, citizens were disappointed but not

City officials say they have not estimated, nor are they concerned about, revenue
that has been lost from lakefront businesses that are not operating this year.

In December, the city spent $21 million to acquire 24 properties on about 31
acres. The purchase included 12 resorts with cabins, five restaurants and a surplus

Overall, the downtown area is doing well this year, in part because of an aggressive
marketing campaign that began four years ago, said Gayla Roten, director of the
Downtown Branson Main Street Association.

A recent tally of tourism tax revenue in the downtown area showed that revenue
from the half-cent tax on restaurants amounted to $440,000 for the months of April
and May.

That's up 11 percent over the same period last year, Dody said.

Downtown owners are eager for a lakefront project to move forward, Roten said.
Some favor a lakefront convention center, while others just want a new attraction,
she said.

We're never going to have 100 percent consensus, so we're just anxious to have
something come in that the majority can support, Roten said. The major
consensus is that wherever it goes, let's make it a destination, not just a "box with
docks." For downtown Branson, hopefully, we're going to see something that
really jumps out. It can't have just one element. One aquarium or one restaurant or
one retail store won't do it. We have to have a return on that $33 million
investment the city made and it will take something that will really bring people in. It
will take several different elements to create that awesome atmosphere that we
really need.

Roten was referring to a $33.5 million loan the city received in March from the
Missouri Development Finance Board to cover the cost of the downtown
property, preliminary site work, demolition and other expenses. It also includes
$1.5 million the city will use to pay part of the principal and interest on the loan
when it comes due in March. Officials say the city may extend the loan unless
permanent financing is obtained by then.

Time for more work

The city is continuing preparations for a development deal whenever it happens. In
about two weeks, a team of consultants and city staff should have a detailed report
on the relative merits of five new proposals for lakefront development and
convention centers.

In the meantime, work continues to prepare the downtown site for demolition. The
city recently contracted with Devine, Delfon and Yeager Inc. for $30,000 to
coordinate documentation of historic sites within the project's footprint.

Preparations also are under way for road improvements that will accommodate
increased traffic expected to a lakefront development and a convention center site,
Dody said. The city has spent $30 million on streets and improvements over the
past five years as part of the master traffic development plan, Dody said.

The capital improvement budget has money set aside for at least another dozen
road projects, including work that may have to be done for a new project.

Branson has a wonderful traffic problem, Dody said. The reason we have traffic
problems here is because we're doing so darn well.

Patience pays off

Ed Eilert, who has been mayor of Overland Park, Kan., since 1981, knows about
patience. City officials there have been trying to make a deal for a convention
center for 15 years.

The town with a population of 150,000 expects in November to hold the grand
opening of its $90 million, 100,000-square-foot convention center and $60 million,
412-room adjacent hotel.

The project's developers the Garfield Corp. are among five who submitted
proposals to the city of Branson.

His town came close a couple of times, Eilert said. The biggest stumbling block
was finding a company to privately fund and build a convention center hotel. That
also was a problem for Branson. The lack of a hotel was among reasons the
Australians proposal couldn't be completed.

About three years ago, Overland Park purchased 15 acres and went through the
requests-for-proposals process now under way in Branson. They accepted a
proposal from a large hotel company, but the deal went away, Eilert said.

About a year later, the city again requested proposals. Four or five were
submitted. They selected the Garfield Group.

The real difficulty was finding financing for the hotel,Eilert said. This is where
Garfield came in.

The solution is bonding received through a not-for-profit organization. The debt is
being repaid by a reserve fund generated by revenue from a 6-cent hotel tax voters
approved by voters in 1985, Eilert said.

Revenues from the hotel tax should be adequate to retire the debt in 25 years, he
said. When the bonds are paid off, the non-profit organization will sell the hotel to
private investors, for a profit, it hopes, Eilert said.

The city made conservative projections on the revenue and won't have to use
general revenue funds for the debt, he said.

General citizen support

Eilert said the town's citizens were fairly patient through the starts and stops.

Most of the questions were "When are you going to get it done? or Are you
ever going to get it done? As it turned out, we have a much much better project
now than had we concluded our first effort. The wait was worth it.

That same atmosphere of support exists in Branson.

I'm never concerned about taking time to get the right project, said former
alderwoman Raeanne Presley. People will build anything if there's enough public
funds to build it. That's the big issue here. Not just where and what, but how much
city dollars.

If the project doesn't make sense financially, we shouldn't do it at all,Presley
said. A developer waits for the right time. John Q. Hammons holds on to property
for 20 or 30 years, and then when conditions are right, he builds a hotel. If none of
these new proposals are right, we should wait.

Presley said she supports the city's purchase of the lakefront property. It opens a
wealth of opportunities, and they have the control, but they're going to have to find
a way to make the payments on it, she said.

Lee Larscheid, owner of Ozark Ticket and Travel, said he's feeling a renewed air
of optimism in view of the new proposals. A convention center remains an
essential component of Branson's future, he said.

Right now, we haven't got a facility that will accommodate the next level of
tourism for Branson, which is the business market, he said. We know from
surveys there's a pent-up demand from medium to medium-large businesses in the
Midwest to come to Branson.

The downtown lakefront, he predicts, will eventually become a destination unto its
own similar to Silver Dollar City,he said. An aquarium would be a good attraction
to lure younger travelers.

Restaurateur Chris Jordan offered the aldermen his support at a meeting to unveil
the proposals. They should seek advice on the projects from specialized
consultants, but they also should trust themselves, he said.

Historically in Branson, we've seen intelligent, wealthy people come to Branson,
put something somewhere because it works somewhere else, and it fails because
they didn't know Branson,Jordan said.

To people who have expressed concern over the destruction of historic lakefront
buildings, he also had advice.

In the 1950s, someone in St. Louis said, Lets tear down those historic
warehouses by the river to put up The Arch,Jordan said.

What the city is doing now is building the new history of Branson.
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Old 08-08-2002, 01:13 PM   #2
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Interesting! This would work well for Branson.
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Old 09-03-2002, 04:06 PM   #3
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RULE #1: Aquariums never make money to cover debt.

Great Lakes Aquarium attendance dries up

Associated Press

Published Sep 3, 2002 AQUA04

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 freshwater attraction.

Steep staff pay cuts and layoffs were expected this month, leaving the $34 million aquarium with a bare-bones staff a fraction of the size it opened with 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.

With this year's numbers spiraling downward, nobody is sure where attendance and revenue will bottom out. And the aquarium still has $250,000 in unpaid construction costs.

As part of the agreement between the city and the nonprofit that runs the aquarium, the city can take over operations of the aquarium if it 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 tax.

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 Duluth Economic Development Authority.

``I would really rather not see the city involved at all,'' said City Councilor Russ Stewart, who sits on the nonprofit board that oversees aquarium operations.

Another 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 officials have not sought any, but aquarium president Ann Glumac said the attraction deserves public support, like the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society and zoos.

``I believe there is a statewide service that comes from telling the story of Lake Superior,'' she said.

If the aquarium did seek state money, Glumac said it likely 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.

``In a normal budget year, it would be very difficult,'' Huntley said. ``But this is not going to be a normal year. It will be close to impossible to get anything out of the state for anything new.''

Glumac said bankruptcy or closure aren't being discussed.

In the meantime, Duluth's 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.
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Old 09-04-2002, 11:23 AM   #4
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I have been to the Ripley's aquarium in Gatlinburg (Smokey Mountains) and I can tell you it was great! If Branson gets a chance to have something like this in their town they should definitely do it. I would go over and over again.
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Old 09-04-2002, 12:13 PM   #5
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Re: RULE #1: Aquariums never make money to cover debt?

Re: RULE #1: Aquariums never make money to cover debt!
Man, that is really going to frost the cookies of every successful aquarium out there! We really need to get the word out to them quick before they sink event further!

I'm going to assume by your post of a negative aquarium article, that you don't believe that an aquarium in Branson is a good idea.

Personally, I think it would be a great asset to Branson.

As far as the negative article posted by bransoninsider - I'm sure we could find a negative article concerning any venture a person might start in Branson. Businesses fail all the time for many different reasons.

From the article that started this thread, it would appear that Ripley's isn't rushing into anything blindly. They are taking it step by step and ensuring that they "have all of the necessary pieces" before they start building anything.

From the article you posted it is unknown why they haven't brought in the revenue that they projected. Not enough feasibility reasearch? Not enough advertising? Poor management? Construction cost overruns? Other things I haven't event thought of yet?

Just because a business doesn't work some place doesn't mean the type of business is bad.

I remeber an article I read a while back about a successful Mexican restaurant chain in Texas (I believe it was TX), but they decided to expand their horizons and built one in a community in Florida. This community seemed ideal, lots of restaurants and lots of dining out, and no other mexican reasaurant in town for competition. Long story short, they closed the doors in a very short time and learned why there was no other mexican restaurants for competition - the general population preferred non-spicy food. Does this mean that a Mexican restaurant is a bad idea? Obviously not - Just in that location, at that time.

Guess I should have posted that article in the Dining forum when they were having that discussion about the new mexican restaurant opening in town........

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Old 09-04-2002, 12:44 PM   #6
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in the article that jerm had noticed it mentioned myrtl beach, someone said something about gatlinburg, curious - anyone know when they were building these just how long it took to finish construction? or have they mentioned anything at all about a timetable for a possible one in branson?
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Old 09-04-2002, 01:34 PM   #7
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Unlike the Insider, I live in Minnesota and I can speak to why the Duluth Aquarium has not been a resounding success.

Major Reasons why the Duluth Aquarium has not been a success:

1) It concentrates on FRESHWATER fish. Most Aquariums exhibit tropical fish, sharks, etc that are found in salt water. That is what people expect to see at Aquariums... colorful fish and fish that scare the bejesus out of them.

Freshwater fish just aren't very exciting visually. Ever seen a carp? Who cares, right?

2) Location. Look at the map below. Almost all tourist activity in Duluth is concentrated around #50... the Canal Park area. Since traffic in the area is brutal, almost everyone parks in one of the Canal Park lots and walks to the various attractions from there. The aquarium is located waaaayyyy over to the left at #9 (actually should be "19" but the "1" is so far to the left it was cut off). Who wants to walk that far?


Unless the Ripley's folks are stupid enough to copy Duluth's mistakes, I don't see how the Duluth experience applies. And since Ripley's has a pretty fair track record at running FOR PROFIT museums, I'm going to assume they won't copy Duluth's mistakes!

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Old 09-04-2002, 02:30 PM   #8
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You go gang!

The aquarium idea would be a great compliment to the Worlds of Wonder museum in Springfield. If they could carry it off and I believe Ripley's has the stuff do to just that! It should be a very welcome addition to the downtown area. I believe that in the scheme of things - they might even be able to incorporate some of the existing areas into this -- especially the Dimitri's building which isn't that old to begin with -- they could build on to that and have a great location. But then what do I know. I'm just a "tourist" who comes down regardless what is happening or what there is to see or do.

Have a great day!
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Old 09-04-2002, 04:49 PM   #9
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We went to the one in Gatlinburg last fall. We enjoyed it very much, but would not go to see it every year. About every two or three years would be about it.
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Old 09-04-2002, 04:53 PM   #10
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I think this Aquarium might be just the ticket...it isnt repeating anything that Branson already has....and that in itself is a bonus...bringing as much variety to Branson as possible.

And......for those that dont like Aquariums like that....I will offer directions and a snorkle.....for 50 cents a head...to look in my ponds....we have Cat Fish and Blue Gill....some have bass..and you will get an Ozarky supper with the excursion......guarandamnteed (Im borrowing that word.....), the best meal in the entire southern half of Missouri. with that swim
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Old 09-05-2002, 12:01 PM   #11
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Thumbs up Regretfully, I stand by my original statement...

Basil raises several good points, but the fact remains that most of the aquariums built in the last 15 years have either filed for bankruptcy, are heavily subsidized by local or state government or both. But the same can be said for dog and horse racetracks too.

I'm not anti-aquarium. I just want to point out that there are always higher expectations of return business. The truth appears to be that once you see one aquarium, one shark, one dolphin, one jelly fish etc., you've seen enough. It is a pleasant experience and one you will remember, but generally, once you've exhausted the home (local) base and the school groups have gone 4 or 5 times, you are left with only tourists to meet your attendance goals. And as anyone can tell you in Branson the whims and interests of tourists are finicky. And the competition for the tourist's dollar is intense. So even an aquarium at the Mall of America, --where attendance is 8 times larger than all of Branson combined, has filed for bankruptcy and had to sell and restructure debt and renegotiate lease terms. Even after that, it is limping along.

I'm sure Ripley's knows what they are doing, but just beware if there is some sort of subsidy attached to this project in the form of a loan or a grant. This is an old con and has been performed many times in cities where the government officials are far more sophisticated than yours are in Branson. Supposedly smart people have been "taken for a ride," so I just want to alert you to these types of scams. I merely suggest that you do a little research on the internet to determine the success of aquariums all across the country. You'll find my original statement to be true. On the other hand, Branson collects lots of tax dollars from locals and tourists. If you want to spend some of this money on an aquarium that you think will enhance the quality of life in Branson, by all means, go for it. But if you spend a few million dollars with the belief that the money will be returned to you, be wary.

And to MNTraveler.... I don't know where to begin. I used to live in Minnesota and I check the newspaper websites there frequently. Blaming location for the Duluth Aquarium's troubles is one of your most outlandish posts ever. First of all the Aquarium is a "destination" not an "impulse" decision. Parking and walking have nothing to do with the traffic coming and going to it. It is not as if someone got in there car, drove a hundred miles to see the Aquarium and then decided to turn around and return home because the Aquarium was located a few blocks away from the lake. The same people who decide to hop in their car and go to McDonalds are not the same as those who hop in there car to visit the Aquarium. It is not as if there are thousands of people standing on street corners in Duluth who say , "Gee I would like to visit the Aquarium but it is 6 blocks from where I'm standing right now and that is just too far, so I'm not going!"

Thinking like yours is dangerous. We've all been on committees in the past with people who think like you do. Usually most of the members of the committee will end up at a bar later in the day where we laugh at the comments made earlier in the day. As the saying goes, "you be thinkin' too much!" Your intentions are good but you're not capable of seeing the bigger picture. Join a church group. They are loaded with people who think just like you do. Promise us you won't join the Branson Aquarium fact-finding committee?

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Old 09-05-2002, 02:22 PM   #12
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Sorry, my good Insider buddy, but a successful aquarium has to be something of an impulse purchase when located in a relatively small town with a large number of tourists... towns like Duluth, Monterey California, or Branson. None of those towns could support an aquarium by the number of families deciding to pack the kids in the car and head out to the local aquarium. As you have pretty much stated... they just aren't THAT popular.

For an aquarium to survive it must be conveniently located in an area frequented by a large number of tourists. It must be able to attract tourists who are walking down the block, see it, and decide on the spot "what the heck -- let's give it a try". That is why the Monterey aquarium is one of the most successful aquariums in the nation. It is located in a city with many tourists, and its Cannery Row location puts it in the heart of tourist attractions.

That certainly must be the way Ripley's Believe It or Not museum survives, because I cannot believe it would be a "destination attraction" for anyone! (I've been there...) Done properly, an aquarium in Branson would have as good a chance of making it as anywhere. As you well know, nothing is guaranteed. More than one theater or amusement park in Branson have gone belly-up too.

It's always interesting reading your opinion, but of course I think you have your head almost as far up there as you think I have my head!!

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Old 09-06-2002, 11:13 AM   #13
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Thumbs up Once again your inverted logic proves my point!

Done properly, an aquarium in Branson would have as good a chance of making it as anywhere. As you well know, nothing is guaranteed. More than one theater or amusement park in Branson have gone belly-up too.
Well said. Look up the statistics. Aquariums generally DON'T MAKE IT ANYWHERE. They are financial losers. They may provide cash flow in the beginning which is all skimmed off and taken out of town, but over the long run (even 2 or 3 years) they are fiscal losers.

That is why the Monterey aquarium is one of the most successful aquariums in the nation. It is located in a city with many tourists, and its Cannery Row location puts it in the heart of tourist attractions.
Wrong again MNTraveler. The Monterey Aquarium was A) built at a time when the costs were more reasonable and initial construction was financed by public and private grants; B) it is in a city on the ocean where the surroundings all focus on water and wine; unlike Branson. C) there are far fewer attractions and things to do in Monterey than there are in Branson. The competition in Branson is ferocious from go-kart tracks to theaters in the Wal*Mart mall; and D) day-to-day opeation of the Monterery Aquarium is still subsidized by grants and loans.

If location is so important and if you think the decision to visit an aquarium is an impulse decision (you are wrong), how can you explain the sorry financial history of the aquarium at the Mall of America in your backyard? Or the heavily subsized aquarium at the Minnesota Zoo?

You see Traveler, I've used my resources and the internet to dig up some of the true stories about these and other aquariums. That's why they call me 'the insider'. You're not arguing with some high school kid or Ozark hillbilly here. You're way out of your league on this one. Suggest you retreat and do your research before tossing insults my way.

Last edited by bransoninsider; 09-06-2002 at 11:18 AM.
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Old 09-06-2002, 11:54 AM   #14
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If location is so important and if you think the decision to visit an aquarium is an impulse decision (you are wrong), how can you explain the sorry financial history of the aquarium at the Mall of America in your backyard? Or the heavily subsized aquarium at the Minnesota Zoo?
My goodness my Insider buddy...

I am shocked that a person with your great research capabilities did not find that the aquarium at the Minnesota Zoo is an INTEGRAL PART of the zoo and no separate admission is charged. Therefore your comments about impulse decisions and the "heavily subsidized" aquarium are totally irrelevant. The MN Zoo aquarium attendance figures AND budget figures are not broken out separately from those of the rest of the zoo. The aquarium is just one of a number of different exhibit areas there.

As for the aquarium at the Mall of America...

That aquarium has a relatively high admission charge ($13.95) and was constructed as a single path "walk through" with the final 2/3 of the exhibit being on a moving walkway. So unlike most zoos, museums and aquariums where you can browse the various exhibits at will, you were given a 20 minute once-through at Underwater World. Obviously, $13.95 for a 20 minute visit is pretty expensive and discouraged attendance. Recently the aquarium changed to using an all-day wrist band so that you can go through the attraction as many times as you would like in a single day. Still not an ideal arrangement, but certainly better than it was. I anticipate this change will increase attendance.

Internet research is great, but not as good as being there. Perhaps you should actually VISIT some of the places you comment on. I've been there... have you?

Always glad to help educate someone who is not as well informed as those knowledgeable Ozark Hillbillies

Last edited by MNtraveler; 09-06-2002 at 01:01 PM.
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Old 09-06-2002, 12:32 PM   #15
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If I was as educated and smart, Id jump in here, but....only this comment should make some folks REALLLLLLLLLY ANGRY.....but then again.....what do I know:

That's why they call me 'the insider'. You're not arguing with some high school kid or Ozark hillbilly here. You're way out of your league on this one. Suggest you retreat and do your research before tossing insults my way.
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