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New Aquarium revitalization plan finally has some real teeth

for The Brooklyn Paper
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An ambitious $100-million plan to renovate the New York Aquarium could turn Coney Island into one of the largest shark habitats in the northeast.

The proposal calls for replacing the aquarium’s 90,000-gallon shark tank — which houses a mere eight reef, tiger and nurse sharks — with two 600,000-gallons aquariums and a more diverse population of about 30 sharks.

Dubbed “Sea Change,” the expansive — and expensive — plan also includes improvements like a refurbished “Aquatheater,” a new “Conservation Hall” showcasing several aquatic habitats, an expanded marine conservation program, and a new exterior alongside the Boardwalk and Surf Avenue.

“I am delighted that ‘Sea Change’ will allow the New York Aquarium to ‘reel in’ fans of aquatic life for years to come,” said project booster, Borough President Markowitz, who only last year trounced the Wildlife Conservation Society, the organization that runs the aquarium, for favoring other zoos ahead of the beloved Brooklyn fish house. “I know that with this initiative, our already outstanding aquarium will just get better with every passing year, and never ‘jump the shark.’”

The city and the Aquarium’s parent organization have committed a combined $56 million towards the project, cash that will go exclusively towards sextupling the size of the shark tanks.

Work is expected to begin in late 2011 or early 2012.

When the shark habitats open in 2014, Aquarium Director Jon Forrest Dohlin expects surge in attendance and interest in the aquarium that will help the Coney Island institution raise funds and secure donations from members and businesses that will pay for the other improvements.

“We anticipate that we will get an attendance boost from openings a shark exhibit,” he said. “We also anticipate that based on what we are doing in other areas as well, that people are going to be more and more excited about the New York Aquarium.”

This fish tank project isn’t happening in a fishbowl — in fact, its impact will be felt throughout Coney Island, where Mayor Bloomberg and property owner Joe Sitt battled over their differing visions to turn the seaside neighborhood into a year-round tourist attraction.

“With the city’s plan to revitalize the amusement district, Coney Island is poised for exciting growth and the New York Aquarium is an important part of that vision,” said Bloomberg, whose office is negotiating a purchase of Sitt’s land.

Dohlin told The Brooklyn Paper that the bold proposal could turn out being the first tangible step in the revitalization of the neighborhood.

“It will be to everybody’s benefit to see something move forward on a much more rapid time frame — we will really be leading the way in the development of Coney Island,” he said.

It’s certainly not the first time someone has made that promise. Indeed, the latest renovation plans come almost three years after the city proposed, and then scrapped, a much ballyhooed aquarium rehab that called for an entirely new look.

And the good news of the new project comes just weeks after the New York Aquarium lost one of its most beloved attractions.

Earlier this month, two-year-old walrus Akituusaq succumbed to pneumonia, passing away just one year after the death of his father Ayveq — who had long pleased walrus-lovers (most famously, himself).

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Reader Feedback

Fish from Out of Water says:
Yipee! The current digs look like a 1950's cafeteria in a poor rural hamlet somewhere in somebody's upstate. Let's hope the new design acknowledges the urban and not end up looking like a suburban mall.
Sept. 21, 2009, 11:44 am
Big Tony from Sheepshead Bay says:
Yo Norm (from atlantic yards report). Is this a Frank Gehry design? I figure you know all.
Sept. 23, 2009, 1:09 am

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