Atlanta Journal and Constitution front page: Fanfare launches aquarium

Karen Dawn KarenDawn at
Fri May 30 08:19:02 EDT 2003

(Fluff piece. Only line about concern for animals is: "Marcus dismissed
complaints by animal rights advocates that aquariums are prisons for sea
life that should be left free in their habitat."
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution takes letters at: letters at )

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
May 30, 2003 Friday Home Edition

News; Pg. 1A

 Fanfare launches aquarium;
Downtown anchor promised


The Georgia Aquarium that will open in 2005 is shaped like a modern Noah's
ark, with a towering translucent bow lit from within that will stand as a
new beacon of hope for downtown Atlanta.

The $200 million aquarium is a gift from Home Depot co-founder Bernard
Marcus to the city and state where he and Arthur Blank started a retail
business that became a Fortune 500 empire.

At the groundbreaking Thursday, Marcus portrayed the aquarium as the needed
anchor for efforts to revitalize downtown while showcasing aquatic animals
that live in threatened waters.

"It looks like an ark, [and] we built it around the theme of the ark," a
jubilant Marcus told hundreds of business and political leaders assembled at
the construction site next to Centennial Olympic Park.

"It's a symbol of a vessel of preservation with the purpose of being used
for the education [about] and the promotion of marine life conservation,"
Marcus said. "That's really what this whole thing is about, and I think
you're going to find it very exciting."

With the flush of a proud father, Marcus rattled off some highlights of the

The 400,000-square-foot Georgia Aquarium will:

* House more than 50,000 aquatic animals from about 500 species collected
around the world.

* Contain more than 5 million gallons of fresh and salt water.

* Have a parking deck for 1,800 cars, with additional spaces for school

* Provide reception space that will accommodate sit-down dinners for 1,200
and space for functions for 12,000 to 15,000 guests.

* Recycle all its water once an hour, consuming no more water each day than
a supermarket or office building.

* Attract at least 2 million visitors a year --- a "slam dunk" prediction,
he said.

* Feature a smiling orange guppy mascot named Deepo.

Marcus said the aquarium alone cannot transform downtown, and he implored
the influential crowd to muster their resources to turn the neighborhood
into a safe and inviting place for families to return "over and over and

Changing the environment "is going to take some thinking on the part of
everybody in this community," Marcus said. "We're going to have to make some
very strong investments in infrastructure. We need to make this place safe
not only because of us, but if someone comes from Seattle . . . we want them
to say the experience was so good that [their friends] have to come here."

Perdue hails attraction

Gov. Sonny Perdue, who also spoke at the ceremony, suggested the state may
pay for road and signage improvements in downtown, but he made no specific

Marcus said such upgrades are essential to ensuring that visitors will
encourage others to visit the Georgia Aquarium as well as the new World of
Coca-Cola scheduled to open next door in 2006, the soft drink giant's 120th

A downtown business group, Central Atlanta Progress, has identified $30
million in upgrades to sidewalks, signs and streetscapes around the

Perdue acknowledged Marcus' request for the infrastructure enhancements.
"You were never bashful, [and] you put the order in again today for the
participation of the state," Perdue said. "We look forward to being here
with you and the World of Coke . . . to again make this the terminus
destination for citizens all over the world."

The governor said he supports Marcus' efforts to bolster the convention and
tourism trade in Atlanta.

"Tourism is the second-largest industry in the state," Perdue said. "As
these two attractions rise from the ground, they are going to add to the
vitality of downtown and strengthen Georgia's appeal as a convention and
tourism destination."

Some secrets remain

After months of keeping details secret, Marcus continued Thursday to keep
some things close to the vest. He teased the applauding crowd repeatedly,
saying details would be dribbled out to build excitement for the aquarium,
which he said will open sometime in 2005.

"We're going to give everybody some information today, but not everything,"
Marcus said. "We have two years before this thing is finally open, and we
want to give you pieces of it as it opens and as it begins to unfold."

Marcus answered few questions about issues that will be important to future
visitors, such as the price of admission, operating times or even what kinds
of animals will be on display.

He did say the aquarium will be overseen by a nonprofit corporation run by a
board of directors. And he emphasized that because of his personal donation
of $200 million, the aquarium will debt-free, making it unique among such
attractions in the United States.

"When it opens, it will have no debt whatsoever [and] will have cash flow
from the day it opens," he said. "The success of the aquarium will be
assured by how well this board of directors [manages it]. And we're looking
for candidates today."

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin delivered a few brief and upbeat comments.

"It's a great day in Atlanta!" she proclaimed at the city's second
significant groundbreaking this month. Franklin turned a shovel May 14 for
the first residences at Atlantic Station, a planned $2 billion development
in Midtown where Marcus once had intended to build the aquarium.

Conserving water

Franklin harked back to her days as a senior executive in the organizing
committee for Atlanta's 1996 Olympic Games. She said the aquarium presents
similar opportunities and challenges. And she suggested the city will use
the two new attractions to vitalize downtown.

Marcus suggested the attractions will have a strong economic impact for both
the city and the state: "When you bring people in they're going to spend
money, and spending money is going to create jobs in this state and create
an environment where this state can prosper better than it ever did before."

With broad brush strokes, he addressed several concerns that have lingered
over his gift.

Marcus said he decided to give an aquarium because he and his wife, Billi,
like aquariums and think the Georgia Aquarium will appeal to people from all
walks of life.

Addressing criticism that an aquarium would waste Atlanta's precious water
resources, Marcus emphasized that the sophisticated treatment plant will
conserve water.

Marcus dismissed complaints by animal rights advocates that aquariums are
prisons for sea life that should be left free in their habitat.

Near the end of the feel-good ceremony, Marcus had a final gift for those
who shared the stage with him. He presented neckties featuring whimsical sea
creatures to Perdue, who had commented on Marcus' flashy tie, Coca-Cola
Chairman Doug Daft and former Coke President Don Keough. To Franklin, Marcus
presented a fish pin to join the large orange corsage she wore --- a nod to
the orange mascot Deepo.


* Is Deepo, the Georgia Aquarium mascot, cute? Too cartoonish? Too much like
Izzy? Go to and place your vote.

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