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Tennessee Aquarium enhances tourism in Chattanooga.

Even before the one millionth visitor entered the Tennessee Aquarium last week, people in Chattanooga knew the facility would be very popular. But no one knew interest in the world's first aquarium dedicated to freshwater life would be so overwhelming that first year attendance projections would be met within four months.

The opening of the Tennessee Aquarium has proved a tremendous tourist attraction for the city of Chattanooga.

The Tennessee Aquarium opened in May of this year, and after two months of operation, 332,086 people had toured the 12 story, 130,000 square foot aquarium that rests on the banks of the Tennessee River and within a city-funded public park. That figure was already more than half the projected yearly visitor goal of 650,000.

Of course, for the city, these figures indicate a great boost to tourism and the revenues that it generates. The Aquarium opened featuring five exhibit areas. The exhibits - the Appalachian Cove Forest, Tennessee River Gallery, Discovery Falls, Mississippi Delta and the Rivers of the World highlight aquatic and animal life in the Tennessee Valley and nearby Mississippi. In addition, aquatic and wildlife are featured from rivers in Africa, South America, Asia, Siberia and Canada.

The privately operated, non-profit Aquarium has more than 4,000 living specimens representing 350 species of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Visitors can participate in hands-on, interactive exhibits at the Aquarium's 200-seat auditorium, two fully-equipped classrooms and wet lab.

"The Tennessee Aquarium gives visitors their first look at the underwater world of the river," said William Flynn, president of the Aquarium. "Most people have seen saltwater fish in their ocean habitats, but few have seen freshwater fish in their natural environment - the rushing water, quiet pools and nooks and crannies along the river shoreline."

The Aquarium project cost $45 million funded through private donations from individuals, corporations, foundation and other organizations.

The city of Chattanooga was responsible for development and construction of the $10.2 million Ross Landing Park and Plaza, on which the Aquarium is located. Of the $10.2 million, $7.5 million came from two state appropriations; $2.5 million came from the county issuing bonds to paid by the hotel/motel tax; and $200,000 came from revenue from hunting and fishing licenses.

The public park offers to visitors a history lesson dating back to prehistoric times, picking up again in the 1600s and leading up to 1992.

Location, Location, Location

The park connects down-town Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. The city added a sea wall along the street and the river, a 360-foot floating boat dock and a fixed peer, a handicap ramp and walkway along the riverbank. In addition, there is a rowing dock and expansive landscaping.

The park provides a history of Chattanooga as a city and the area before the city was founded, said Madison McBrayer, a retired airforce general and former community economic development director for the city. McBrayer was chosen as the volunteer oversight director for the construction and development of the park.

The building of the park included major infrastructure changes like cutting off a major city street, moving sewage and electrical lines and reconstructing the area.

Life Along the Tennessee River

The park features a series of bands of brass depicting life along the river, including native American life and the removal of Cherokees in the 1830s to Oklahoma. The bands reflect the beginnings of Chattanooga railroad days, and display the words to the "Chattanooga Choo Choo."

The Aquarium was designed by the architectural firm of Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc. of Cambridge, Mass, which designed the New England Aquarium in Boston, the National Aquarium in Baltimore and Osaka, Japan's Ring of Fire Aquarium. Exhibit designs were done by the Lyons/Zaremba, Inc. of Boston, Mass. and the exhibit fabricators for the project is The Larson Company of Tucson, Ariz.

"We have gone to great lengths to re-create selected habitats and to stress the variety and interconnectedness of life along the river. I think that visitors to the Aquarium will begin to appreciate fresh water - rivers, stems, lakes and swamps - as the lifeblood of the continents," said Peter Chermayeff, founding principal of Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.

In the Appalachian Cove Forest exhibit, a 70-foot-high pyramid-shaped glass roof helps re-create the mountain source of the Tennessee River, where some 15 varieties of free-flying birds inhabit the moist air of the forest, fish swim in shallow streams and deep sinks and river otters entertain themselves in mountain pools.

According the facts provided by the Aquarium staff, the state of Tennessee has more species of freshwater fish than any other state in the nation and is home to more varieties of plants and animals than any comparable inland, temperate zone in the world.

Tracing Chattanooga's History

Located about 100 miles from Atlanta, Birmingham and Nashville, Chattanooga was founded as a trading post in the early 19th Century. Chattanooga was one of a few Southern towns built on heavy industry as a major railroad hub. The city later had to rid itself of polluted air and damaged water quality in the 1970s.

Today, after the implementation of several environmental cleanup and safety measures, Chattanooga reflects the city's environmental concerns and is home to a metropolitan population of 433,210.

"The Aquarium not only reflects the city's environmental concerns and efforts, but serves as a showcase for the state's biological diversity," said Flynn.

The Aquarium holds 400,000 gallons of water, and through its exhibits re-creates nearby and faraway waterways including the Nickajack Lake, which was created in the 1930s to reduce flooding and provide Tennessee citizens with a reliable drinking water source.

Visitors tour canyons, forests, rivers and swamps inhabited by fish of all sizes, frogs, salamanders, turtles, alligators and snakes to name a few. In the Mississippi Delta exhibit, visitors will see the only saltwater tank devoted to fish of the Gulf of Mexico. Three tanks are devoted to the world's largest river the Amazon, where visitors will see wildlife from that region including red-bellied piranha.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Baker, Denise
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 16, 1992
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