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Opponents of proposed $85M aquarium say money is better spent addressing housing issues

aquarium protest
Palmer Harvey, founder of the Syracuse Tenants Union, speaking at the rally in front of the Onondaga County courthouse, where the county legislature meets.

More than two dozen people gathered in front of Onondaga County’s government buildings downtown Tuesday to continue to express their opposition to a proposed $85 million aquarium. Instead, members of Families for Lead Freedom Now, Syracuse Tenants Union and CNY Solidarity Coalition would like to see that money spent on urgent housing needs.

Protester Marianna Pernia, also a a physician, said she has noticed patients facing food and housing insecurity.

“It is clear to me and others that stand here today that people in this county are still living with urgent economic hardships. Even as the county has a surplus of $200 million. The fact that the county executive has wanted to push through an expensive private, risky venture, such as an aquarium with taxpayer money just shows the extent of how out of touch the executive branch is to the actual problems of those who live here,” Pernia said.

aquarium protest
Children gathered at the rally to protest for housing rights.

Palmer Harvey, the founder of the Syracuse Tenants Union, said she was initially excited about an aquarium, but that changed when she learned it would be funded with taxpayer dollars.

“Eighty-something million dollars on an aquarium in a city that is riddled with poverty—are you kidding me? How dare the county executive even think to spend over $80 million on such a thing. The city of Syracuse has a multitude of housing concerns from predatory landlording to eviction crises. And this is what we spend our money on. Are you kidding me?" Harvey said.

Oceanna Fair, the founder of Families for Lead Freedom Now, also spoke at the rally, and echoed concerns that the money is better spent elsewhere.

"Success will come by allocating available monies and attention to solving the problems such as lead poisoning that have become a crisis for far too many Onondaga County residents,” Fair said.

aquarium protest kid
A child holding a sign advocating for affordable housing.

After the rally, the speakers addressed county lawmakers at the legislature's Tuesday meeting. The aquarium hasn’t been on the agenda since December. Legislature Chairman Jim Rowley told WAER News last month that it’s depends on County Executive Ryan McMahon, to bring the item to lawmakers. If and when that happens, he says it would go through committee before landing on the full legislature's agenda.