Widgets Magazine
  • Zoo proposing "world-class" aquarium for MAPS 4

    by Miguel Rios

    Oklahoma City Zoological Park and Botanical Garden (OKC Zoo) officials hope an aquarium proposal will be included in the MAPS 4 package. The vision is for a 100,000 square-foot “world-class attraction” that would cost $100-$150 million. It could be integrated into a Bricktown Canal extension that would cost an additional $1.5 million.

    In 1990, city residents approved a one-eighth-cent sales tax to support the zoo permanently. With a dedicated funding source already in place, OKC Zoo executive director Dwight Lawson said the zoo could easily operate and potentially fund part of the project.

    “We’re able to generate pretty good capital funds on a regular basis, so we have the potential to, in essence, save up money to support part of a project like this. So MAPS would not have to fund the entire venture,” Lawson said. “It would be a 365-day-a-year attraction that was both available to local families as well as tourists. It has a big, strong education component. It has a potential for partnerships with schools and universities and things like that.”

    Though the project had gotten some buzz before the MAPS 4 special meetings were announced, it did not appear as its own formal agenda item at any of the four meetings. Instead, Ward 7 councilwoman Nikki Nice brought it up under “other projects brought forward by councilmembers.”

    “I’m not entirely sure how they came up with the slate,” Lawson said. “I believe that the council did some polling via the [Greater Oklahoma City Chamber] that may have influenced that. I’m not privy to the exact methods.”

    The chamber’s MAPS polls have never been made public in the past. However, OKC Zoo hosted seven focus groups last December to gauge community reactions to the idea of a standalone aquarium.

    “We did a focus group with a random sample of our members, and then we did some exit polling of visitors here at the zoo about how they felt about it and a couple of things that they might want to see,” Lawson said. “Those groups were pretty positive about it. Granted, that’s a bit of preaching to the choir since it’s our audience, but they liked the idea.”

    Canal destination
    Don Hayes of Hayes Brokerage presented the proposal Aug. 6 and said the idea is to extend the Bricktown Canal into the aquarium, giving it a destination. He said they received a $1.5 million quote for the extension from the canal’s engineer.

    “One of the reasons Nikki has grabbed onto it is because it’s her ward, first of all. Second of all, the canal doesn’t go anywhere. It just goes down and turns around,” Hayes said. “So we said, ‘What if we gave the canal a destination?’ so that when people are coming into Bricktown and they want to know what’s in the canal taxi, well, it goes all the way over to the Oklahoma City aquarium; inside the aquarium, as a matter of fact. We can make it a Disney-type affair.”

    The canal would be extended westbound, and the aquarium would be constructed adjacent to Summit Gyms at OKC Silos. Hayes envisions a wall of glass within the aquarium where you could see aquatic animals. He said the city could even continue extending the canal to Scissortail Park in the future.

    “We could make that thing unbelievable,” Hayes said.

    Since the idea is still in the early stages and there is no certainty on the inclusion of the project in MAPS 4, Lawson said they are “a little coy and noncommittal” in terms of the location. Through a feasibility study, OKC Zoo had already identified several potential locations last year.

    “As part of the MAPS process, you really don’t commit to a particular site,” he said. “MAPS or no, if we’re able to move forward with this at some point, I think there are some sites downtown that would still be really good. The Producers District being one of them. I think the canal extension was the brainchild of some of the developers downtown, so that would be a nice fit, but we want to stay [open-minded]. ... If it’s not part of MAPS, that makes it much more difficult for us, and we’re going to have to regroup and think about how to go about it.”

    An economic impact study estimates the aquarium would “receive 600,000 visitors per year with a gross operating budget of $13 million per year after initial construction costs ranging from $110 million to $150 million.” Additionally, the estimated economic impact from visitor expenditures ranges from $27 million to $80 million “while supporting 305 to 915” local jobs.

    “At this point, this thing is so packed with opportunity for promotion for Oklahoma City and our tourist industry. It’s incredible,” Hayes said. “I think it would pumpstart, jumpstart, hit the reboot button on Bricktown and that water taxi.”

    Dwight Lawson

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