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View Point

By C. Richard Fassler

Saturday, February 17, 2001

World-class aquarium
would be invaluable

Brilliant ideas are not what we have come to expect from our elected officials. It's enough, we say, that they manage to keep the ship of state afloat.

That's why I was awestruck when the Cayetano administration announced its desire to make an aquarium the centerpiece of the revitalization of the Kakaako waterfront. That's why I was greatly disappointed to see the results of a recent Star-Bulletin poll showing little support for this proposal.

This is undoubtedly due to the fact that little has been done to provide reasons for the need for this highly valuable attraction, namely:

Bullet Aquariums have anchored development projects and served as major stimulants to the economies of such places as Long Beach, Boston, Baltimore, Tampa and Chattanooga. They are unrivaled in their ability to transform scruffy slums into bustling gathering places.

Bullet Hawaii is the only state completely surrounded by water, yet we lack what even inland states, such as Tennessee and Ohio, have: a world-class aquarium.

Bullet Tourism is still -- by far -- our No. 1 industry. In addition to pouring $60 million a year into marketing, we need to develop new features to maintain our competitive edge. Aquariums have emerged as a top visitor draw.

Bullet An aquarium would be a major marine research and conservation center, as well as an educational resource, with exhibits focusing on Hawaii's dazzling marine specimens, as well as our unique geology, history and culture.

Bullet At Kewalo Basin, we have one of the world's most ideal aquarium sites, with complementary attractions, such as the Children's Discovery Center, on state-owned land.

A brilliant idea, but while we stew, debate and place our project on the back burner, other locations have wisely gone ahead.

Seattle is planning a new $200-million facility. Long Beach has already spent $117 million in public money to build the Aquarium of the Pacific (which should have been Hawaii's name).

Has it paid for itself? Yes, attracting more than a million visitors last year. Moreover, millions of dollars in additional tax revenues have been generated, and an area that was once infamous for its brothels and bars is now one of the best places in L.A. to take the kids on a Sunday afternoon.

A 1998 study indicated a price tag of approximately $60 million for a medium-sized aquarium. Half of this would come from public funding, with the other half private. The governor recently organized a fund-raising committee to produce roughly $20 million of the cost.

As an AOL stockholder, I've written twice to AOL Time Warner chief and former Honolulu resident Steve Case, proposing "the AOL Aquarium of the Pacific." The advantages to the company would be considerable in terms of market exposure, technology and benefits to the community. Stay tuned.

Sadly, the chances of allocating public monies for an aquarium this legislative session look slim. Education, of course, is a priority.

But what about marine education? Didn't the ocean play an important role in the lives of the ancient Hawaiians? Doesn't the ocean still play an important role in our lives? Should we tell our children to go to Long Beach if they want to see outstanding displays of Hawaii's marine creatures?

Let's get started! To our legislators: We've waited long enough. Our opportunity for a world-class aquarium is now!

C. Richard Fassler is vice chairman
of the Manoa Neighborhood Board.

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