Greater City Providence

Where the Ocean State Aquarium Should Be

Ted Nesi over at WPRI just posted some analysis on Republican gubernatorial candidate Victor Moffitt’s proposed aquarium. An aquarium in Rhode Island rivaling the Georgia Aquarium, in Atlanta, in size has been a cornerstone of the Moffitt campaign. Moffitt has even gone so far as to set up a non-profit for the project, and has some rudimentary renderings of a possible building.

Moffitt states, “In its four years in operation, the [Georgia] aquarium has brought in 12 million visitors, pumped $4 billion into the local [Atlanta] economy and spun off 50 new businesses. Moffitt foresees a larger aquarium on Aquidneck Island or, perhaps, in East Providence.”

Nesi in his analysis pokes holes in Moffitt’s claims on the economic impact of the Georgia Aquarium on Atlanta, which are well worth following the link over to read, but his final conclusion is what we’re talking about here:

Long story short, if Moffitt wants his aquarium to have the same impact as Atlanta’s, he’d better plan to locate it in a major regional capital city and surround it with three professional sports teams, a top global news organization and a huge public park. I’m not sure if Aquidneck Island or East Providence fit the bill.

It is likely a safe bet that an aquarium in Rhode Island would have some sort of positive economic impact on the region. Would I base my gubernatorial campaign on the idea? Probably not. And I’m not really seeing how the state at this time could focus on such an endeavour, Moffitt suggests the aquarium would cost $500 million. Certainly the state doesn’t have $500 million lying around.

I’d be all for the state doing what it can to help a non-profit or some other entity raise the funds for an aquarium, so long as it was in a place that would maximize the economic impact. As Ted says, Aquidneck Island or East Providence are not those places. The Dynamo House might be though.

Dynamo House

If we wanted an aquarium rivaling the size of the one in Georgia, we’d need the Dynamo House plus a substantial addition to it. Though we don’t necessarily need one that huge, the New England Aquarium would likely fit nicely inside the Dynamo House shell for instance.

With SBE&R having pulled out of Rhode Island, the Dynamo House’s future is very much in flux. Dynamo is not situated amongst three professional sports teams or the headquarters of a global news organization. It is however next to a proposed waterfront park, on the route of a proposed streetcar line, up the block from the extant Children’s Museum, and in the heart of the next great development frontier in Rhode Island.

Dynamo House

If Mr. Moffitt is serious about his aquarium, this is where I think it should be.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • As soon as I saw Aquarium and RI in the same sentence, I immediately thought of this location as well. I think it would be the perfect place! Close to walk to downtown, to the east side, the jewelry (or “Knowledge”) district… its on the water, the list goes on extensively. I can guarantee if its placed in some random area like EP or Aquidneck, it wont get frequented often. Imagine the possibilities… Brown, RISD, JWU students are bored… they might hit up the aquarium.. or their families are in town and need something to do with the whole family, even field trips for the schools in the Prov/Warwick area. I can also imagine the possible jobs and internships that would be available for many students and young professionals in the area.

    But 500mill seems to be a crazy idea.

  • Just off the top of my head, I’m going to guess that DeKalb County (where Atlanta is) is probably the size of all of Rhode Island (including the bay.)

    Therefore, it is safe to say that an aquarium in RI might as well be perfectly in the middle of CT and MA, so we have two huge casinos, four major league sports teams, plus two minor league sports teams, about 25 world renowned universities and all the newspaper and television that the Boston Metro area affords us. Plus, plus plus.

    But I agree with you guys, that the aquarium has got to be in Providence, not out on Aquidneck or EP.

    I am going to the Aquarium in Atlanta at the end of next month and I will report back.

  • Hm. I mistyped. The City of Atlanta is partially in DeKalb County and partially in Fulton county, but my point still stands.

  • The choices of Aquidneck Island or East Providence are limited in that both are pretty exclusively automotive destinations. Even with a potential return of ferries or the occasional stop-over of a cruise ship the vast majority of visitors would arrive in motor vehicles at either location.

    Besides subscribing to auto-culture, Providence is a pedestrian environment, similar to Newport, but has the added transportation advantage of intercity and commuter rail service, and soon a train connection from an airport. It would be completely irresponsible to only consider auto destinations and not to consider all transportation assets for locating such an expensive investment. I agree that the Dynamo House or adjacent land would be the best location for an aquarium. Also, reviving the Museum of Industry would provide a multiplying effect on the state’s economy.

    An adjacent aquarium and museum would also help to activate the proposed new park along the river that’s part of the 195 land. Since the proposed building densities of the 195 land nearer the river are relatively low for Downtown, there’s a risk that the new park could be underutilized. An aquarium and museum would help guarantee an adequate population for the park.

    Was there a political reason for Moffitt to specifically propose East Providence and Aquidneck Island? Why not the Rocky Point site in Warwick? Perhaps a requirement to reopen the East Side Rail Tunnel with rail service from the city to the aquarium could be set as a stipulation for locating an aquarium in East Providence or for Aquidneck Island a commitment to start commuter rail between the three island communities or even beyond to Tiverton and Fall River.

  • Aquariums have been proposed for decades. During the 80’s it was going to be built at Fields Point (where J&W is now). This is one of those \”build it and they will come\” projects that always seems to rise from the dead.

    The Atlanta Metro area has almost 4 million residents. Metro Atlanta had 25 million leisure visitors in 2008. It is also a major convention destination (5th in the country in 2009) with approx. 75,000 hotel rooms and 11 million business visitors in 2008. Visitors to Atlanta generate 11 billion dollars in direct spending. You cannot expect to come anywhere close to duplicating the revenue generation of the Georgia Aquarium in RI because we don’t come anywhere close to generating those tourism numbers.

    The Georgia Aquarium is also the only aquarium of substantial size for 100’s of miles. We have the New England Aquarium and Mystic Aquarium within an hours drive. And it wouldn’t surprise me that the minute we announce an aquarium in Providence that either Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun would start drawing up plans for theirs.

    While I would have no problem with a private or non profit entity building and operating an aquarium, a state sponsored and paid for proposal is a no-go for me.

  • Looking at the building reminds me of the Maritime Center in Norwalk, CT, which is in an urban area. It’s not a huge aquarium, but it’s a great place for kids and adults alike. It’s a very hands-on aquarium too.

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