Something Fishy in Coney: Sharks vs. Aquarium Makeover
Is that cool makeover of the New York Aquarium dead? The Brooklyn Daily Eagle's Sarah Ryley reports that it could be sinking and might have been one of the things behind Borough President Marty Markowitz's call for a Brooklyn coup d'etat to takeover the aquarium's board of directors. The text is posted on the Coney Island Message Board, but we're going to excerpt some key parts of Ms. Ryley's fascinating story laying out the struggle for money and control that pits things like an expensive new shark exhibit against the desperately needed exterior makeover:
For years, Brooklyn politicians have accused the Society of treating the aquarium “like a stepchild,” and the battle has intensified recently as two expensive projects to vamp up the lackluster attraction--a shark exhibit and an exterior makeover--compete for funding, said City Councilman Domenic Recchia, chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee...Disguised as low-lying brick boxes, the aquarium is arguably Coney Island’s least noticeable attraction, yet is supposed to become the amusement district’s eastern anchor under the city’s flashy redevelopment plan. Two summers ago, the city Economic Development Corporation and the Wildlife Conservation Society launched a competition to refashion the aquarium’s exterior into something exciting that would attract passersby, not hide from them. A winner would be announced by the end of 2006, they said.Frankly, the aquarium makeover was one of the things in Coney Island that we could wholeheartedly embrace as we find the existing design depressing. More than once, we've questioned the mentality that led to a block-long concrete wall to conceal an aquarium from a boardwalk and the water. One hopes that resolutions are found quickly and that a redesign can move forward soon.
That date has come and gone, and although by all accounts the Wallace Robert & Todd (WRT) design was chosen, nothing has been announced. According to two Coney Island Development Corporation board members, the Society, which is based in the Bronx and also oversees the city’s four zoos, doesn’t want to pay for it anymore.
“The Bronx said no way,” said Community Board 13 District Manager Chuck Reichenthal. Another board member, one the condition of anonymity, said, “The Zoological Society will not put up the other half, so that’s most likely why, out of frustration, Marty called for breaking [the aquarium] away and forming a separate organization with its own board of directors...Not everybody agrees that funding an exterior overhaul is the best way for the Society to prove its affection. The winning design covers the entire aquarium in a sloping blanket of high-tech lights, vertical gardens and “breathing” mesh. Though it hasn’t been priced out, and the architects are working on integrating the shark exhibit and interior renovations into the design, according to a source close to the project just the exterior could cost up to $125 million.
“We have to get rid of the perimeter. We could use that money, it could be better spent in other ways,” said Recchia. “I want to build my shark tank. The shark tank is my No. 1 priority.” He said the tank, which would have ocean views, would cost $65 million.
Economic Development Corporation (EDC) spokeswoman Janel Patterson said the city has committed $69 million to the aquarium over the next two years, including necessary infrastructure work. The Society “has funded almost all of the shark tank design to date. EDC and [the Department of Cultural Affairs] are working with sister City agencies to move the project forward, but we also must take the time necessary to be sure it compliments the Coney Island redevelopment plan,” she said in an email.
According to a high-level source, Coney Island Development Corporation board members are even at odds with the heads of its parent agency, the EDC. “High-level officials at the EDC are asking, is that money better spent on building great exhibits or is it better spent building that enclosure?” The source said the Society considers the exhibit a more important priority. If anything, the exterior makeover would be pared down to something more affordable...
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