Friday, August 31, 2001

Aquarium official leaves

Sabalones put together staff, supervised displays

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — Juan Sabalones, director of husbandry at the Newport Aquarium and the man who assembled the aquarium's staff of aquatic experts more than two years ago, resigned Wednesday.

        David Wechsler, vice president of Steiner & Associates, the company that developed the aquarium, and a partner in the endeavor, said Thursday that the parting was amicable.

        “It's been coming over a period of time,” Mr. Wechsler said.

        “Juan made the decision. It's quite possible that (Steiner) will use his expertise for other projects.”

        Attempts to reach Mr. Sabalones, who lives in Newport, were unsuccessful Thursday.

        He had been the No.2 person at the aquarium, directing the staff of aquatic biologists and other fish experts and overseeing all aspects of the displays, since coming here from the Na tional Aquarium in Baltimore in 1998.

        Aquarium general manager John Tighe could not be reached for comment.

        Mr. Wechsler also confirmed that the aquarium laid off three people from its marketing staff last week, but said Mr. Sabalones' departure was not related.

        “We have a set plan for how we operate, and it was determined that we just had too large a marketing staff,” he said.

        “We had as large a staff in marketing as Kings Island.”

        Mr. Wechsler said the aquarium experienced a decrease in attendance this summer, especially after the April riots in Cincinnati and the Comair strike.

        “Those two events definitely hurt our out-of-market business,” he said.

        “... But it wasn't that significant. Our (attendance) numbers weren't off that much at all ... single digits. And our August numbers are running 16 percent above our projections.”

        The aquarium lost another member of the original staff last week when communications director and marketing specialist Lisa Popyk resigned to become director of marketing for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

        The $40 million Newport Aquarium is the cornerstone of the $200 million Newport on the Levee entertainment complex, to open in October.

        After it opened May 15, 1999, it surprised even its owners by drawing more than 1 million customers in the first year and about 2.25 million in 24 months.


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