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Onondaga County Legislators Continue To Seek More Information About $85 Million Aquarium Project

aquarium committee meeting.jpg
Scott Willis
County Economic Development Director Mary Beth Primo, center, explains the benefits of the aquarium project. She's flanked by Executive Director of the CNY Regional Planning Board David Bottar, left, and Rosamond Gifford Zoo Director Ted Fox, right.

Onondaga County legislators are continuing their discussion around the viability of an $85 million aquarium proposed for Syracuse’s Inner Harbor.  It’s still unclear if and when the project will advance through the legislature.

The facilities committee took up the item Tuesday for a second time since it was first proposed by the county executive in early October. Economic Development Director Mary Beth Primo noted the legislature’s diligence in seeking information.

"We've basically said quite a bit. I know we've had some lengthy discussions. We've given three different presentations, we've talked with you individually."

Still, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle remain skeptical of the aquarium, mainly based on what they’re hearing from constituents. Republican Ken Bush says residents overwhelmingly tell him they don’t’ see the economic advantage, and are concerned about long term maintenance.

"There's no question that people think it would be wonderful to have in the community. But it's not a top priority in terms of taxpayer funding, when we have water and sewer lines that need repairing, roads that need repair. We have human service needs that need to be take care of," Bush said.

Democrat Mary Kuhn says she’s still seeking more information on long-term costs and the environmental impact. She says constituents feel the same way.

"When I was campaigning, I talked to hundreds of people, and two thought it was a good idea now. It's not that they didn't think the aquarium was exciting. But not now. They want more information about the economic impact. We are in a pandemic. Our hospitals are filling up. We need testing sites."

Development officials say they need the legislature’s approval of the county’s $30 million share of the project for an engineering and design study to get more answers. Meanwhile, Mary Beth Primo told lawmakers there are numerous benefits.

"It'll create new fiscal revenues, enhance our brand, create new and exciting educational opportunities for students, children and for adults. And, it's going to enhance our quality of life."

The committee took no action on the measure. The planning and economic development committee will consider the project Wenesday at 9 am.  It must advance to the Ways and Means committee before landing on the legislature’s session agenda

In our next story, lawmakers and economists question the objectivity of a feasibility study that the county is using to justify the project.

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