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Fate of $85 million Aquarium Uncertain Despite Landing On Onondaga County Legislature's Tuesday Agenda

This is a rendering of the aquarium.
QPK design
This is a rendering of the aquarium.

The fate of the proposed $85 million aquarium project remains unknown even as it goes before the full Onondaga County legislature Tuesday.  The Ways and Means committee today took no action on the matter.  A vote would typically indicate the level of support for an agenda item.

Economic development officials made their case to lawmakers for the third time this week. David Bottar is executive director of the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board. He says the aquarium has the potential to draw an average of 490,000 visitors a year from several large cities within a five hour drive.

"That's a huge population base. What the consultant is project is less than one half of one percent of that 60 million people will come and visit our aquarium."

Legislator Chris Ryan doesn't doubt Syracuse and Onondaga County can compete for tourists. He just wonders if an aquarium will be enough of a draw.

"I think they're saying that a lot of people will be coming here just for the aquarium. I'm not sure."

Ryan says visitors to other cities with aquariums are usually there to see larger attractions.

Legislator Jim Rowley questioned Bottar about the attendance numbers from within an hour’s drive.

"So what you're saying is 25 percent of that population has to come to the aquarium every year in order to make these numbers work," Rowley said.

"Twenty-five percent WILL come to the aquarium," Bottar responded.

"And how do you know?" Rowley asked.

"Because we retained the services of an expert in the industry, and they have presented detailed information..."

"And a lot of the information they have, if you look at footnotes, is their data," Rowley interrupted. "It's tough to verify. Why would I rely on one consultant to give me information and say it's true? Just because he's a consultant and we pay him $120,000?"

Even with lingering questions from several lawmakers, the item is on Tuesday’s agenda. Chairman Dave Knapp says there will be discussions behind the scenes before then.

"I totally agree with the county executive we need to find ways to grow our sales tax long term. That aside, the decision is is this a good way to do that. I'm going through all the plusses and minuses like everyone else."

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
John Smith has been waking up WAER listeners for a long time as our Local Co-Host of Morning Edition with timely news and information, working alongside student Sportscasters from the Newhouse School.