Tennessee Aquarium story – a
Tenn. (Jan. 25, 2008) – Water. It hugs
the shore and gurgles from fountains. It splashes playful children
and inspires our creativity. Water floats our boats and soothes
River sweeps through the heart of Chattanooga in a boomerang
shape – the eternal symbol of a return to the
beginning. When Chattanoogans envisioned a renaissance
for their city 20 years ago, they returned to their river. Now
the banks of the river flourish with an aquarium, children’s
museum, carousel, theaters, walking paths, pedestrian bridge,
pier and other amenities that helped revitalize what had become
a dirty, dying downtown.
Chattanoogans and visitors by the millions have rediscovered
the city’s roots by the river, where a transformation began
in 1992 with the opening of the world’s largest freshwater
aquarium, the Tennessee Aquarium. Recognized as a “cathedral
of conservation” with its glass peaks gracing Chattanooga’s
skyline, the Aquarium showcases the city’s greatest natural
resource, the Tennessee River.
Like a favorite
fishing spot, people return to Chattanooga to visit the Aquarium
to see amazing creatures that swim, fly and crawl in natural
habitats, but also to enjoy the entire riverfront experience
and the natural mountain attractions that surround it. The
projects along the riverfront and downtown have made Chattanooga
a model for urban revitalization all over the world.
the river, citizens returned to the site where the city was
born in 1816 – where Cherokee Chief John Ross
established a trading post on the banks of the Tennessee River.
Return to the River
The journey back to the river began in 1984, when Chattanoogans
joined in a community planning process called “Vision 2000.” Restoring
downtown’s vitality was very much at the heart of the meetings.
At the same time a publicly appointed citizens group – the
Moccasin Bend Task Force –hosted community meetings about
how to reclaim the Tennessee River. Those discussions were focused
on public access and meaningful development along the riverfront.
It was a group of architectural students from the University
of Tennessee at Knoxville who first suggested the idea of an
aquarium near the downtown waterfront. These ideas came together
in the “Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan.” Published
in 1985, this 20-year plan called for $750 million of mixed-use
development, enhancement and conservation along 22 miles of the
Tennessee River corridor as it passed through Chattanooga.
1990s Chattanooga started turning plans into bricks and mortar. The Tennessee Aquarium opened in 1992, the
Chattanooga Visitors Center in 1993, the Creative Discovery Museum
in 1995, the IMAX 3D Theater in 1996. The renovated Walnut Street
Bridge opened as a pedestrian-only bridge in 1993. Directly across
the river from all of this activity, Coolidge Park, featuring
a vintage carousel, opened in 1999, spawning a retail renaissance
on the city’s north shore. And on the south end of town,
the convention center was expanded a block away from a new conference
center and hotel. Private enterprise was rekindled, too, with
at least a hundred eateries, shops and other businesses sprouting
up to support the influx of downtown visitors.
volume of activity was enough to capture the nation’s
imagination through the media and by word of mouth. The
recession-plagued industrial city Walter Cronkite called “the
dirtiest city in America” during a 1969 CBS newscast shed
its inferiority complex and basked in the limelight of media
attention throughout the 1990s, appearing on the covers of “U.S.
News and World Report” and “Parade” magazines.
Chattanooga was named one of the most enlightened cities in America
(“Utne Reader”); one of the top 10 family vacation
destinations (“Family Fun” magazine); one of the
world’s great cities (NPR’s “Morning Edition”);
one of the country’s best places to live, work and play
(“Outside” magazine); and was named one of America’s
most walkable cities (“Walking” magazine).
the transformation began in 1992 with the opening of the Aquarium,
it continues today – as recently as the spring
of 2005 – when Chattanooga unveiled another $120 million
in riverfront improvements spanning 129 acres. The 21st
Century Waterfront Plan capitalized once again on the public/private
partnerships that have made Chattanooga a model for urban revitalization. What
began as a discussion about improving a marina grew to include
expansions of the Tennessee Aquarium and the Hunter Museum of
American Art, improvements to the Creative Discovery Museum,
public art installations, and the complete overhaul of the riverfront
at Chattanooga’s birthplace, Ross’s Landing.
From the mountains to the sea
The Aquarium tells the story of the river – following
the path of a raindrop from the streams of an Appalachian Forest
to the Gulf of Mexico – from the mountains to the sea. Although
the Aquarium has grown in size and in animal population since
1992, its story and its mission have remained the same.
From free-flying song birds in River Journey’s Cove Forest
to the Undersea Cavern in the Ocean Journey building, the Aquarium
combines both freshwater and saltwater habitats to give visitors
an experience unlike any other. Much like the Tennessee River
connects us to the Gulf of Mexico, the Aquarium strives to connect
visitors to the natural world. The Aquarium’s goal is to
help people experience the link that exists between humans and
the environment and to inspire them to protect it.
experience is an unforgettable adventure underneath magnificent
glass peaks where guests explore indoor forests, underwater caverns
and deep canyons. Visitors meet amazing
creatures like playful river otters, enormous sharks, lurking
alligators, whimsical seahorses, pulsing jellyfish, giant catfish
and captivating penguins. Surprises abound around every corner,
like a giant spider crab pop-up tank or a Shark Island touch
station where people can “pet” harmless bamboo sharks
and small rays. In the Butterfly Garden, a thousand fluttering
jewels of nature surround delighted guests.
- The Aquarium strives to offer an enriching an enjoyable experience
to a wide and diverse audience through: excellent exhibits,
a healthy and dynamic living collection, engaging educational
programs and activities and outstanding customer service.
- The Aquarium is dedicated to the protection and restoration
of wildlife through research and conservation initiatives.
- The Aquarium also provides positive community leadership
and economic impact.
The Tennessee Aquarium is credited with igniting Chattanooga’s “renaissance
on the river. No single project has played a greater role
in revitalizing downtown.
its opening in 1992, the Aquarium has anchored an economic
revitalization of the Ross’s Landing riverfront district,
with an estimated economic impact of $1.5 billion, according
to the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce.
- More than 100 stores and restaurants have opened within a
few blocks of the Aquarium and ripples of new development continue
to spread throughout the district, according to the Chattanooga
- In the
200-acre Ross’s Landing area, appraised property
values have increased 124 percent.
employment rose 38 percent from 1992 to 2002 – 58
percent of that increase took place between 1997 and 2002.
to the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors
Bureau, tourism now brings nearly $650 million dollars to “the
A blackboard with no borders
Whether children explore how tree frogs defy gravity with their
suction-like toes, or discover that snakes aren’t slimy
at all, their sponge-like minds soak up the information because
they’re on a safari, on an adventure, below the surface,
beyond the edge and in the zone. When children get up close
or hands-on with a creature living in a natural habitat, they
become part of its world – learning about its behavior
an emotional connection between people and nature is the ultimate
goal for the Aquarium. The Aquarium helps
protect fragile ecosystems by inspiring new generations with
wonder and appreciation for the natural world.
to what visitors experience during a tour of the Aquarium – docent talks, narrated dives and gallery programs – thousands
of schoolchildren and other organized groups delve deeper into
the Aquarium’s river of knowledge through hands-on learning
in the Environmental Learning Lab, Aquarium summer camps, IMAX
films, member events, outreach programs, behind-the-scenes tours,
the Museum Magnet School program, home school days and teacher
Volunteering is an adventure at the Aquarium
A volunteer who takes the time to show a child hidden creature
in an exhibit and tell him a few fun facts can make the difference
in the way that child views the natural world. Aquarium volunteers
touch thousands of lives daily. Besides that, they have
the best fish “tales” of anyone working beneath
the Aquarium’s peaks.
educators train and maintain a large volunteer corps of docents,
ambassadors, divers, horticulturists and others, many who work
behind the scenes. Docents are stationed
throughout the Aquarium galleries to share information about
the habitats, animals and plants. They’re equipped with
fun facts to impress any visitor.
divers feed some of the Aquarium animals, monitor animal health
and participate in narrated show dives. But
they also do the dirty work – cleaning the vast expanses
of acrylic windows to give visitors sparkling views every day. Horticulture
volunteers are the resident green thumbs who maintain the Aquarium’s other living
collection, the plants in our forests, galleries, exhibits and
even in our outdoor gardens and office spaces. We also
have event and office volunteers who lend a talented hand with
special projects. More than 500 volunteers dedicate hundreds
of hours each month.
Aquarium visitors at a glance:
Chattanooga’s family-friendly atmosphere lures visitors
from the cities and suburbs of Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville,
Knoxville and Huntsville.
Although the Aquarium's primary markets continue to be those
within a 2-3 hour driving radius, since opening more than two
million visitors have come from markets far and wide. In
1999, nearly 20,000 of our visitors were international. From
the beginning, the Tennessee Aquarium has been aggressively marketed
individually and cooperatively with the city and state tourism
programs. The Aquarium benefits from more than $4 million in
exposure each year, including the value of publicity, advertising
and special promotions. For example, the Aquarium has been
a feature of Tennessee State Tourism campaigns and covered in
major national magazines and television programs. In addition,
the Aquarium's web site received more than five million views
press kits & downloadable images: http://www.tnaqua.org/News/Newsroom.aspx