My colleagues and I are on a lot of listservs for science center and museum professionals. An interesting item came through a few weeks ago on one of them. Someone on Capitol Hill saw fit to put language into and early draft of the stimulus bill that specifically prohibits stimulus dollars from going to zoos and aquariums. The zoos and aquariums were lumped in with a few other items like casinos and golf courses. I found that odd.
One can only assume that the writer believes that zoos and aquariums don’t stimulate the economy. However, the existence of venues like the Georgia Aquarium tends to contradict that assumption. The Georgia Aquarium cost $320 million to construct (jobs), employs more than 400 full- and part-time employees (jobs) and has helped spur a new wave of tourism-related growth in downtown Atlanta (more jobs). A Georgia State University study concluded that the aquarium’s impact on Atlanta’s economy would total between $1 billion and $1.5 billion during its first five years after opening in 2005. In addition, the aquarium encourages interest in science, a cornerstone of America’s 21st century economy.
All in all, I think we’ll be lucky if the stimulus package can produce projects with those kinds of benefits. By the way, that draft language prohibiting aquariums and zoos from being eligible for funding stayed in the bill that the House and Senate approved over the weekend and awaits President Obama’s signature.
Jeff Hill is Morehead's director of external relations