What The Rockford Aquarium Has Accomplished
The Rockford Aquarium was chartered as a not for profit corporation with a 501 (c)(3) designation in March 2010 in the State of Illinois.
The concept was initiated by a small group of people who are passionate about aquariums and the science behind them. This group makes up the Rockford Aquarium Board of Directors. They are local volunteers with a broad expertise of community involvement, leadership, development and just getting things done! But more importantly, they have a deep love of and commitment to the Rockford area.
The Mission Statement of the Rockford Aquarium is: “To establish and maintain a public aquarium in Rockford, Illinois area for the betterment of our community with a focus toward educating children and adults to the wonders and sustainment of our watersheds, rivers, oceans and the life within.”
The presence of an Aquarium in the Rockford area will be a catalyst for downtown development and an enhancement to other museums and tourist attractions. This world-class Aquarium will create a vibrant and exciting place where people can spend quality family time while learning about the oceans of the world, our river and important aquatic-related issues. The Aquarium will play a vital role as an economic stimulus which will help the City of Rockford in the completion of its plan to develop its downtown.
The Aquarium will be a highly visible tourist attraction: interactive and educational. It will be a family-oriented experience with a goal to encourage the retention of visitors. The idea is to bring the oceans of the world to an area that is essentially landlocked and to celebrate our Rock River by exploring its waters and ecosystems. Incorporated into the building will be “green building practices”, including water labs, classrooms, gift shop, a themed restaurant, labs exploring the use of algae growth and several other sustainable energy projects. Other logical progressions include developing a College of Water to study the water where the fish live and valuable student internship opportunities, service learning and volunteer opportunities.
There are a number of sites currently under consideration. A specific one will be determined in the near future.
The Aquarium Board has been working with ConsultEcon, Inc. This firm specializes in zoos and aquariums. The Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium has worked successfully with ConsultEcon to develop its river museum and aquarium, two of the projects that have helped turn the City of Dubuque into a thriving community welcoming news business and tourists.
According to a presentation ConsultEcon made at the International Aquarium Congress, October 2008, Shanghai, China, aquarium development and economic impact are on the rise throughout the world.
“The benefits of public aquariums have been such that they have been developed throughout the world, and continue to maintain popularity with tourists and achieve high rates of repeat visitation among resident populations. These public aquariums are often a city’s most high‐profile visitor attraction. Aquariums have particularly ‘enjoyed a renaissance’ in the past 30 years and have been seen as urban renewal catalysts, as both large and small cities have planned to develop or have developed aquariums not only for social value but also for economic development benefits…Aquariums are considered high value experiences to be included on a tourist’s itinerary and as a special outing for area residents. Many aquariums have successfully interpreted their unique, local marine or freshwater stories, becoming a “must‐see” destination in tourism settings, as a visit to the aquarium becomes part of the tourists’ experience in learning about the place they are visiting.”
“Overall, public aquariums have been a source of quality entertainment for many years exhibiting a variety of marine species that patrons would not otherwise be able to see and creating a unique and memorable experience. In the past few decades, aquariums have evolved into not just a source of entertainment for its visitors but also a vehicle for public education and research about aquatic environments, directly and indirectly stimulating the desire to preserve these
“In this economy…” seems to be an on-going theme. But a theme that also has brought
stay-cations and local travel. While it is true we need to take care of basic needs in our community, we also need to take care to ensure its future by enriching the lives of its citizens. An Aquarium is the perfect tool to make this happen.
The economic impact of an aquarium is massive. Whether the aquarium is built from the ground up or rehabs an existing space, the economic impact would be substantial. It would put hundreds of thousands of dollars in the pockets of local construction firms employing a multitude of different trades. Once built aquarium would employ operations and administrative staffs year round.
What has been accomplished to date?
The Board of Directors has had numerous meetings with potential stakeholders including the City of Rockford, Winnebago County, Rockford Park District and “Live, Work Play”, Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and many others.
The Board hired ConsultEcon in November 2011 to complete Phase I of a feasibility study. ConsultEcon gathered statistical data on population centers, tourist attractions, highway accessibility and more. It presented its findings at a workshop held on November 9, 2011. ConsultEcon informed the attendees that its demographic study indicates there is a tourist market for an aquarium in our area. An aquarium would draw from over 1.1 million people within a 60 minute drive of the Rockford area with an estimated 995,000 overnight visitors at 60% hotel occupancy.
In June 2012, the Board worked with MBA students at Rockford University to develop and administer an online survey asking residents who live within a two hour drive if they visit aquariums and museums when they travel. The results were overwhelming positive.
In the Spring of 2013 The Board of Directors engaged ConsultEcon to complete an Economic/Feasibility Study. The funding for this study came from individual members of the Board of Directors, The City of Rockford, through the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Rockford Park District, Winnebago County and individual donations.
Elena Kaslas, the consultant in charge of the study, visited Rockford and met with the Aquarium Board, officials of the City of Rockford, Winnebago County, Rockford Park District, Rockford Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and others to gather the information needed to complete the Study. Elena completed the further interviews by phone and delivered the completed study to the Aquarium Board in October 2013.
Gary Anderson, architect, lead our Board Retreat in the Fall of 2015.The Board spent the morning discussing ideas and formulating a general outline for the future of the Rockford Aquarium.
Some of the conclusions the Board came to were:
In 2016, the Board hired Comtech MultiMedia Marketing to design a new website which went online.
In the summer the Board decided it needed a Conceptual Design of a Mid-size aquarium. After much research, the Board found Space Haus, an aquarium design firm located in Chicago. The Board invited consultants Bryan Schuetze and Edwin Chung from Space Haus to visit Rockford.
After lengthy discussions, the Board asked Space Haus to send a proposal outlining how they could help with this project and what the cost for that help would be.
Space Haus’ proposal includes a 16 week conceptual design phase during which Space Haus would work with the Board to establish the main exhibition theme and develop supplementary story lines with feature habitats and exhibit tanks.
Some of the work they propose includes:
This project is expected to cost $30,000.
The Board revisited all the numerous sites it had considered and decided the Lorden Building in Davis Park would be an ideal location. Conversations began with Gorman and Company, the Mayor of Rockford and other community leaders. These conversations will have to be restarted with the newly elected Mayor, County Board Chairman and others.
In 2017, the Board’s next step is to raise $30,000. Currently we have researched hiring a grant writer and have finally settled on one. His job is to help us locate foundations that will help us cover the cost.
Some of the major findings include:
The Rockford Aquarium could be as large as 50,000 square feet and include 250,000 gallons of exhibits.
The community benefits from being within an easy driving distance of a large population, including those living in the suburbs of Chicago. Visiting Rockford is a more convenient and affordable option for families that are looking for an alternative to visiting downtown Chicago attractions.
Review of Aquarium Experience
During the past thirty years, aquariums have fully emerged as well-known and highly valued visitor experiences and engines of economic development.
Aquariums are proven education, conservation, entertainment and economic development
institutions in their communities. In addition, in some locations, aquariums have had the ability to increase the length of stay of visitors – a visit to the aquarium becoming either a first day or second day experience.
Qualitative Assessment of Economic Impacts
The Rockford Aquarium will have a lasting impact on the area.
The Aquarium’s had its first public exhibit at the Burpee Museum of Natural History from February 1 through April 29, 2014. A 150-gallon tank filled with corals and salt-water fish was on display for the community to see.
Since that exhibit ended, The 3Rs Learning Materials Center at the Edgebrook Shopping Center has purchased a 150 gallon tank and has stocked it with salt water fish and live coral. The owners plan to hold educational workshops for students on the sea and its creatures during the summer months, thus introducing students to the type of educational programs the Aquarium will offer in the future.
In the Spring of 2015 members of the Board of Directors were invited to participate in planning meetings with Farr and Associates. Farr and Associates, a consulting firm, has been hired by the City of Rockford to help construct an overall plan for downtown development. The Board considers this participation as a giant step forward in fulfilling our mission.
The Board of Directors will hold a Retreat in the summer of 2015 to begin writing the aquarium’s Strategic Plan while it continues discussions with community leaders to hone the search for potential locations.