Aquarium of Niagara celebrates past, looks to the future with capital campaign
By Jill Keppeler
Even as the Aquarium of Niagara marks its 50th anniversary, plans are afoot to bring the venerable local institution into its future.
Ilene Strober, director of development and marketing, said the aquarium's new capital campaign is called "Join Our Journey."
"It's a $3.3 million renovation and it's how we're defining our future," she said. "It's the first phase of a multi-phase master plan to remodel and enhance the aquarium, keep us in the forefront."
The plan is to break ground in November on a new Humboldt penguin exhibit with an educational and interactive classroom, and a completion goal by the end of 2016. Meanwhile, aquarium personnel are working on an application for accreditation through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
"This is huge. It's going to allow us to give all the attention we need to the Humboldt penguins," Strober said. "We're really, really excited about this. This is a big upgrade to us.
"We feel this capital campaign is going to make the aquarium live up to our mission statement, to not only be an entertainment source, but also a scientific and learning source, as well."
Simone Russell, manager of the aquarium's gift shop and sale supervisor, has worked there for about 33 years. She's seen children visit the facility over the years, then grow up and bring their own children for a visit.
"I think it's wonderful to see these advances coming," she said. "It's long overdue and I think it will benefit the whole area of Niagara Falls."
Strober said the aquarium receives less than 2 percent of its $1.8 million operational budget from the state. The bulk of its budget comes from admission prices, memberships, gift shop sales and donations, she said.
That figure covers not only such costs as building upkeep, etc., but the considerable amount necessary to feed the aquarium's inhabitants, including 43,000 pounds of fish a year for the California sea lions and others.
When the aquarium opened June 12, 1965, it actually began as an "inland oceanarium" started by a group of scientists and investors who made synthetic seawater, which is still in use today around the world, Strober said. In the 1990s, the group became the not-for-profit Niagara Aquarium Foundation.
The aquarium marked its 50-year anniversary June 12 with a celebration including remarks from Executive Director Gay Molnar, board President Richard Torcasio Jr., Assemblyman John Ceretto and Niagara County legislators Jason Zona and Owen Steed.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster encouraged the public to support the facility's goals.
"We need to lead by example and do everything we can to support the aquarium," he said. "Don't be shy about reminding your friends and neighbors that this is your aquarium. We must give what we can to fund their capital campaign and keep this place as a regional wonder."
After presentations were made, everyone watched a California sea lion show with music from the past five decades. Brandy Scrufari from Star 102.5-FM was master of ceremonies for the event.
An award was presented to trustee emeritus Earl W. Brydges Jr., who has been with the Aquarium of Niagara from the first day.
The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 363 days a year (every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas). For more information or to contribute to the capital campaign, contact Strober at 716-285-3575, ext. 203, or email [email protected].
Personnel at the Aquarium of Niagara hope to break ground on the new Humboldt penguin exhibit, shown in this artist rendering, in November. (Courtesy of the Aquarium of Niagara)