A look back is needed as new citizens aquarium group looks forward
Sometimes the best ideas aren't new ideas. And as another citizens group searches for ways to enhance Duluth's oft-troubled Great Lakes Aquarium and to secure the long-term sustainability of the popular Bayfront attraction, its members could begi...
Sometimes the best ideas aren't new ideas. And as another citizens group searches for ways to enhance Duluth's oft-troubled Great Lakes Aquarium and to secure the long-term sustainability of the popular Bayfront attraction, its members could begin by studying the recommendations and the conclusions of a citizens group that came before them.
Four years ago Monday, the Great Lakes Aquarium Task Force released its final report, a "monumental effort," as Mayor Herb Bergson called it last week during his annual State of the City address. The task force's work "resulted in the development of some very creative options within a thorough list of comprehensive suggestions."
For one thing, Ripley's was tapped to operate the freshwater facility. For another, a city subsidy, similar to the annual subsidies that help buoy the Lake Superior Zoo, was made permanent and regular, sparing the aquarium the ridicule of publicly requesting the funding every year before the City Council.
But at the same time, a host of other ideas were dismissed, never explored or not fully realized.
They included further enhancing and expanding the aquarium's educational offerings. Doing so would make the attraction as much a freshwater research and resource facility as tourist trap.
Partnerships -- including with the University of Minnesota Duluth, the UMD Natural Resources and Research Institute and the Minnesota Sea Grant program -- would help the aquarium realize even more fully its original educational mission. Such refocus also could open doors to federal money, foundation grants and other sources of new revenue.
Other partnerships make sense, too, in providing efficiencies and additional reasons for more visitors to stop. Displays and expertise could be shared with the Minnesota Science Museum or the Minnesota Aquarium, the owners of Underwater Adventures. Resources and management could be exchanged with the Lake Superior Zoo. And fishing licenses, hunting licenses and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness permits could be purchased at the aquarium through agreements with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service, the task force determined.
Despite all that, four years later, "aquarium confusion [continues] to haunt Duluth," Bergson said in announcing a new citizens group to "take a fresh look."
"It will be their task to make an in-depth assessment of the aquarium's current status while thoroughly evaluating any and all reasonable options for enhancing its long-term viability and optimizing its ongoing benefit to our community," Bergson said.
The 10-member panel, which Bergson calls the "Blue Ribbon Mission Assessment Team," can begin by looking back and by building on worthwhile work that's already been done -- but perhaps forgotten.
Disclosure: News Tribune Publisher and Editorial Board member Marti Buscaglia was chairwoman of the Great Lakes Aquarium Task Force and is a member of the Blue Ribbon Mission Assessment Team.