Aquarium Could Drain Visitors From Zoo

Almost everyone agrees the new Georgia Aquarium will do wonders for Atlanta tourism. But will the $200 million facility be a setback for Zoo Atlanta, the city's other wildlife attraction?

Zoo Atlanta President Dennis Kelly says he expects zoo attendance to dip when the new aquarium opens later this year. He says patrons will have to choose between the two attractions; because of the buzz surrounding the much anticipated aquarium, the zoo could lose.

What's more, though the admission price to the aquarium has not yet been announced, Kelly says it's likely to be competitive with the zoo's $17 admission.

"Because we are a city-owned zoo and we get no operating support, we're priced pretty high," Kelly says. "It will be pretty expensive to go to both the aquarium and the zoo in one weekend, so families might have to make a choice."

Kelly says the zoo intends to upgrade its ticketing service to be compatible with the aquarium's, thereby allowing the possibility of selling joint zoo-aquarium tickets.

Bernie Marcus, co-founder of retail giant Home Depot, is footing the bill for the construction and start-up costs of the aquarium and says he believes the aquarium will help rather than hinder Zoo Atlanta. He intends for the aquarium to promote the zoo - and hopes the zoo will return the favor.

"I'm going to have billboards that say, 'While you're here, go visit the zoo,'" Marcus says. "I hope that people are going to go [to the Georgia Aquarium], to the zoo, to the Dr. [Martin] Luther King memorial."

According to Kelly, Zoo Atlanta has a contingency plan - including controlling expenses and increasing marketing - in case attendance does not rebound quickly.

"But you don't save your way to prosperity," he says. "You grow your way to prosperity. Atlanta is a young, growing city and that is the best place for a family attraction like Zoo Atlanta to thrive."

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