Saturday, June 16, 2001

Aquarium is reeling in visitors

Economic impact estimated at $200M

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — The sharks haven't scared 'em away. In fact, the reverse may be true.

        The Newport Aquarium just celebrated its second anniversary, and figures released Friday show that about 2.25 million people visited the attraction in its first 24 months.

        “I think we've proved to everyone that we are for real,” aquarium general manager John Tighe said Friday. “By providing diversity of presentation and a fresh product, constantly upgrading and improving, we've been able to keep our visitors coming back.”

        The two-year attendance includes about 250,000 schoolchildren.

        Aquarium spokeswoman Lisa Popyk said that in addition to the attendance figures, state tourism officials have estimated that the aquarium accounted for $200 million in economic impact to the Greater Cincinnati area.

        Eric Minton, a Dayton, Ohio-based industry analyst and editor of the international attraction publication The Loop, said he was impressed by the aquarium's performance in its first two years.

        “It really astounds me that the (aquarium) continues to pull in these crowds,” he said.

        “It's nearly unheard of. I attribute that mainly to the product, but also to customer service and the sense of value the aquarium offers.”

Attendance is comparable

        Kathy Fulgham, public relations director at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, said the Newport figures were right in line with what the Chattanooga aquarium has experienced in its 8 1/2 years of business.

        “We projected attendance at 650,000 annually when we opened (in 1992), but we've drawn more than a million visitors each year,” she said. “We exceeded 10 million last August.”

        The two aquariums are comparable in size, and both are on major rivers — Newport on the Ohio River and Chattanooga on the Tennessee River.

        The Chattanooga Aquarium cost $45 million, the Newport Aquarium $40 million.

Aquarium helps downtown

        “The economic impact in the downtown area has been estimated at nearly $1 billion over eight years,” Ms. Fulgham said.

        “More than 100 stores and restaurants have opened within a few blocks of the aquarium, and property value near the aquarium is estimated to have increased 124 percent.”

        Sheree Allgood, spokeswoman for the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Northern Kentucky leisure entertainment numbers “are holding steady, in light of everything that has happened locally.

        The aquarium has acted as an anchor, and is becoming a viable tourism destination.”

        Newport City Manager Phil Ciafardini said he felt the aquarium figures “are especially impressive when you consider that the aquarium had to contend with construction all around that presented some difficulty for people finding their way.

        As the work on Newport on the Levee is completed, I can see the attendance going up.”

        Newport on the Levee, an entertainment complex next to the aquarium, is to open this fall.

        It includes a 3-D IMAX theater, a 20-screen cinema, 50 shops and restaurants, and a 2,000-car garage.

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