Clearwater and Tampa aquariums exploring partnership
CLEARWATER – There may be two big fish in the Tampa Bay area, but that doesn’t mean one of them has to eat the other.
That seems to be the evolving philosophy of the Florida Aquarium and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, whose leaders have been talking about working together rather than competing for visitors.
Florida Aquarium officials showed up at a Clearwater City Council meeting last month to caution them against the Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s ambitious plans to build a $160-million center in the middle of downtown.
The new Clearwater facility would be about 200,000 square feet, slightly bigger than the already struggling Florida Aquarium in Tampa, which has about 150,000 square feet. Clearwater Marine Aquarium officials expect their new attraction, which they hope to open in 2017, would draw as many as 2.5 million people, making it one of the nation’s top aquariums.
While skeptics wonder if the expanded Clearwater aquarium could really bring in that many people, its plan has raised questions whether the region could support two large aquariums.
Recently, the Tampa aquarium’s president, Thom Stork, met with Clearwater aquarium officials to clear up “misunderstandings,” he said in an email.
That’s when Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates pitched his idea.
“I said, rather than being concerned about cannibalization and who gets what part of the pie, let’s grow the pie,” he said.
The idea was to leverage the assets of each aquarium. Clearwater has a movie star in Winter the dolphin, while the Florida Aquarium has more than 20,000 sea creatures and offers guests the chance to swim with sharks.
The collaboration could also involve the smaller Pier Aquarium, which plans to move from downtown St. Petersburg this fall to John’s Pass Village in Madeira Beach. The aquarium, which is being renamed the Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration Center and Aquarium, offers interactive exhibits about cutting-edge marine research.
“We’re going to have the world’s most unique aquarium experience you’ll have anywhere,” Yates said. “You’ll have three aquariums that all have different experiences.”
One of the ideas floated at the meeting was creating a combo ticket that would allow guests to visit all three facilities at a discounted price.
Another was to work with area tourism officials to rebrand Tampa Bay as an aquarium destination to draw families with young children.
The Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry already offer a combo ticket called the Tampa Trio to boost visits to all three educational attractions.
“As is standard within our industry, The Florida Aquarium is always open to working together with other attractions to provide our visitors the best experience possible,” Stork said in an email.
While the aquariums have begun talking about a possible partnership, those talks are still in their infancy, he stressed.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium and The Pier Aquarium already have a partnership that allows members of each aquarium to visit the other for free, along with other educational institutions, such as the Tampa Museum of Art.
That program has driven up membership, Pier Aquarium President Howard Rutherford said.
“We want to build on that existing relationship, and we talked about a possible co-op ticket and what that might look like between our two aquariums,” he said.
Rutherford said he hasn’t spoken with officials at the Florida Aquarium yet, but they are working together, along with Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, on an educational program to connect marine researchers with local students.
It’s becoming increasingly common to see museums, zoos and cultural attractions that are close together offering shared tickets, said Dewey Blanton of the American Alliance of Museums.
For example, visitors to Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg can buy a reduced-price ticket for admission to several other sites in an area known as the Historic Triangle, Blanton said.
“Pooling resources has been seen as a real good way to get the most bang for the buck,” he said.
Marketing three aquariums together could be very successful, because they share the same audience, Blanton said.
“Obviously for any attraction there’s a particular segment of the market that’s going to be interested,” he said.
“If you can reach that limited audience in a big way, that’s pretty clever.”
Source: The Tampa Tribune