Posts Tagged 'baltimore mayor'

Baltimore’s Grand Experiment – The “Fish Tank” 32 Years Later

government affairs and policy update

*Special thanks to Senator Ben Cardin, whose idea served as the inspiration for this blog post. 

Baltimore’s National Aquarium celebrated its 32nd birthday on Thursday – officially unveiling the new $13 million Blacktip Reef exhibit in a style that invoked the iconic image of William Donald Schaefer wading into the seal tank while wearing a 1920s bathing suit and carrying a rubber duck on August 8th, 1981. Thirty-two years later, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli risked the shark-infested waters for Thursday’s ribbon cutting, officially ushering in a new era of exhibits at the “crown jewel of the Inner Harbor.”

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As anniversaries often do, the commemoration of another successful year offers an opportunity to look back at where things began and how far they have come. It is easy to forget that when the concept for an aquarium in Baltimore’s then-sparse waterfront was first proposed there were those who vehemently opposed its founding and the public support that helped fund its construction. Yet since breaking ground in 1978, the Aquarium has proven that it’s not the floundering fishbowl people imagined, but rather a deep sea of success. Nearly 50 million people have walked through our doors. Of them, 2.5 million Maryland students have been inspired by the 16,000 animals from more than 650 different species that call the Aquarium home. The National Aquarium remains the number one tourist attraction in Maryland with nearly 1.4 million visitors every year. And a recently completed economic impact study  concluded that the Aquarium is responsible for $314 million worth of economic impact and an additional $19 million fiscal impact on the City and State every year.

Given this tremendous contribution to the state, it is almost hard to believe that the National Aquarium was once decried as “frivolous” and just one of the Mayor’s “pets” during the contentious debate over the bond referendum to help fund the Aquarium in 1976. Critics worried that attendance would be low and the resulting reduced revenue would not be enough for the experiment to be self-sustaining (in fact, the Aquarium only planned to host 600,000 people – instead it saw 1.6 million visitors in its first year). Finally, opponents argued that the presence of such a project would not be “essential” to the City of Baltimore.

While I was not alive to witness this debate or Mayor Schaefer’s infamous plunge, a picture of him tipping his straw hat, eyes staring up at the glistening glass pavilion he spent nearly a decade bringing to life hangs on my office wall. It reminds me on a daily basis that, national designation or not, we are still Baltimore’s Aquarium[1]. It was Mayor Schaefer and his Commissioner of Housing and Community Development, Robert Embry, who first dreamed up the idea to attract tourism to the Inner Harbor with an aquarium in the early 1970s. It was Baltimore City residents in 1976 who voted to fund the Aquarium’s construction via a bond referendum. And it was Baltimore’s native son, former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, who led Congress to designate the new facility the “national aquarium” in 1979.

A day after Mayor Schaefer took his dive with an 800-pound seal named Ike, the Baltimore Sun opined: “On Pratt Street yesterday were crowds of people where crowds never existed before.” So here is to another 32 years. Another 50 million visitors. Another 2.5 million Maryland students. Thousands more breathtaking animals to visit. And hundreds of millions more economic and fiscal benefit to the City and State.

Happy birthday, National Aquarium! Apart from crab cakes and the Orioles, I can’t think of another symbol that is more “essential” to the City of Baltimore.


[1] The land and the buildings are owned by the City of Baltimore. The City of Baltimore funded most of the Aquarium’s $21.3 million construction cost. Other major sources include: $7.5 million from City capital funds generated by the sale of Friendship (now Baltimore-Washington International) Airport to the State of Maryland; another $7.5 million from the 1976 bond issue referendum; and $2.5 million from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Commerce Department. The private sector contributed about $1 million.

National Aquarium intern and Towson University student, Kelsey Fielder, contributed greatly to the research and writing of this post. 

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Happy Birthday to Us! We Celebrated Our 32nd Anniversary in a Big Way!

On this very day 32 years ago, the National Aquarium opened its doors to the public for the very first time. Since then, we’ve been honored to share the majestic beauty of our aquatic world with over 40 million visitors!

Today we celebrated another incredible milestone in the Aquarium’s history, the grand opening of our newest exhibit, Blacktip Reef! Baltimore Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli for an aquatic ribbon cutting in the center of our Indo-Pacific reef!

It has been a long journey to opening day – filled with animal transports, exhibit demolition, habitat fabrication and new construction! We’ve documented the whole process, from start to finish, for our online community right here on the blog. If you haven’t yet, be sure to take a look!

Like everything here at the Aquarium, this new exhibit will continue to evolve and grow in the coming days, weeks, months and years! Stay tuned to the blog for updates and be sure to share any new memories made in the exhibit with us!

Thanks for 32 great years! Here’s to many, many more! 

Baltimore is Focused on Clean Water

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Water, and more specifically Clean Water is a major area of focus in Baltimore this week. Rightly so. We all understand that we rely on access to clean water for not only life itself, but our quality of life as well. The water that we drink and that makes up the natural systems that surround us is intricately linked to our health and well-being. It is this undeniable fact that is the focus of many events happening in our great city in these next few days.

The week started off with the unveiling of Baltimore’s Annual Healthy Harbor Report Card. The “report card” is an annual milestone report focused on the ultimate goal of making the harbor Fishable and Swimmable by 2020. The Baltimore Harbor was given a grade of C- in 2012, with most water quality indicators (dissolved oxygen, water clarity, nutrient levels, etc.) squarely in the C-D range. According to the monitoring data, the Baltimore Harbor only met water quality standards 40 percent of the time. Despite the less-than-stellar grades, we must realize that natural systems take time to “bounce back.” We cannot reverse centuries of abuse in the course of a couple of years. We are in this for the long-term after all and if we pay attention and continue to work together and take responsibility for our role in clean water, we will see our efforts pay off.

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Mayor of Baltimore Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at the Healthy Harbor report card press conference. Photo via Blue Water Baltimore.

Mid-week, the Choose Clean Water Coalition Annual Conference will also begin right here in Baltimore. The focus of the coalition is to serve as a strong, united, effective advocate for restoring the thousands of streams and rivers flowing to the Chesapeake Bay by coordinating policy, message action and accountability for clean water at the federal, state and local levels. The National Aquarium has been a member of the coalition almost since its inception and we are excited to help host this year! More than 275 representatives from organizations and governments from all over the Chesapeake Bay watershed will learn from some of the innovative initiatives developed in our city and elsewhere. It is an important chance to share common strategies and priorities so that we can build upon the work of each other to more effectively face our challenges and ultimately help improve our local streams, rivers and the Bay.

Finally, Baltimore City, like many other jurisdictions in Maryland is considering the establishment of a stormwater utility or Water Pollution Reduction Fee. The utility will be the major topic of discussion at the June 11th City Council meeting. The purpose of the utility will be to create a sustainable model that will allow our city to finance the repair and replacement of aging stormwater pipe systems currently in place and to implement innovative and effective stormwater reduction strategies that will clean our polluted stormwater runoff before it gets to the local streams. Now is not the time to debate the need for such a utility, legally the city is required to do this or face large fines; now is the time to let our city council know that we care about clean water and healthy communities.

Again, we all understand that we rely on access to clean water for not only life itself, but our quality of life as well. The water that we drink and that makes up the natural systems that surround us is intricately linked to our health and well-being.

The activity here in Baltimore this week reaffirms the critical concept that we have the power to CHOOSE clean water. We have the power to make individual choices that improve water quality (choices centered around your home, your work, your commute). We have the power to take collective actions to ensure healthy water supplies (volunteer in community cleanup and restoration efforts, use your purchasing power to stand up for clean water, etc.). We have the power to support our local governments in their efforts to provide communities access to clean water. – or we have the power to do nothing. Which are you going to choose?

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Thoughtful Thursdays: Celebrate Earth Day All Weekend

Each year, Earth Day — April 22 — marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. At the Aquarium, our goal is to practice conservation every day of the year, but this weekend, in honor of Earth Day, we thought we’d do a little extra celebrating!

We have lots of fun activities lined up for Saturday and Sunday at our Baltimore venue, between 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Enjoy special animal encounters, repurpose recyclable materials into cool crafts, check out our eco-fair, and learn the tooth about sharks!

We’re also holding an e-cycle event, to send old or broken electronics to a second-life program, rather than to a landfill. Bring in your old cell phones, CDs and DVDs, and any other small electronics you’d like to dispose of, and we’ll give you a gift in return!

On Sunday, you’re invited to join Aquarium CEO John Racanelli and special guests Governor Martin O’Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at 11 a.m. for a tree-planting ceremony, as we celebrate our new partnership with the National Wildlife Federation. The event will take place in the Aquarium’s Waterfront Park, just outside the main entrance on Pier 3. Meet Ranger Rick, sign a pledge to plant a tree, and take one home to plant and nurture. Also on Sunday, if you ride your bike to the Aquarium, you can get a free tune-up courtesy of Joe’s Bike Shop!


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