Grove Header- White.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

County leaders push forward with aquarium despite public's objections

Onondaga County Legislator Deb Cody speaks at a meeting on a controversial aquarium proposal while community members in the back of the chamber hold signs in opposition to the plan, Aug. 2, 2022.
Scott Willis
/
WAER News
Onondaga County Legislator Deb Cody speaks at a meeting on a controversial aquarium proposal while community members in the back of the chamber hold signs in opposition to the plan, Aug. 2, 2022.

By a narrow margin, Onondaga County lawmakers on Tuesday approved spending $85 million of taxpayer money to build an aquarium on Syracuse’s Inner Harbor. 

The 9-8 vote marked an end to the months of uncertainty surrounding the controversial development—County Executive Ryan McMahon first raised the plan in his state of the county speech nearly a year ago.

The Tuesday meeting of the County Legislature was the only official opportunity for the public to express its opinion and only for 30 minutes, per the chairman’s rules.

Many of the arguments from public speakers against the project were similar to Albert's.

"Keep being told that this is good for the economy, to take money and put it in the hands of some wealthy developer, right? So that he can hire a few people because he's a job creator. You know what else is good for the economy? Healthy people, people with secure housing, educated people, people that aren't poisoned by lead; we have one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the nation, and your priority is an aquarium. That's good to know," he said.

While most in the gallery were strongly opposed, Van Buren Town Councilor Wendy Van Der Water said she sees the potential of an aquarium, much like the amphitheater.

"I think this project would generate an incredible amount of revenue for the area. It would be a great tourist attraction during the summer when people are here for the New York State Fair, and I think the aquarium in conjunction with the M.O.S.T. would create a successful destination location for families year round looking for wholesome experiences for their children," Van Der Water said.

In the end, county lawmakers had the final say. Legislator Tim Burtis was one of only three Republicans to vote no. He’s questioned some of the goals and projections from the start, though in the end, said it was a difficult vote.

"To those who thought I was undecided, of course I've been decided for quite some time. It's my decision for my district and I believe that it's one that is correct for me and for those that I represent—something I can live with," Burtis said.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.