Written by The Business Journal Staff
In September, grading work was completed at the Fresno aquarium property along Highway 99 overlooking the San Joaquin River and soon the nonprofit taking charge of the project, Aquarius Aquarium Institute, will be able to move forward on constructing the building for phase one.
Tom Lang, the executive director of the Aquarius Aquarium Institute, said the process of transforming the 10-acre property into a state-of-the-art aquarium is going to take a long time as the nonprofit plans to stay debt free, relying solely on donations.
“Many people in Fresno ask when this aquarium is going to become a reality. The truth is we could go out and borrow money and open a lot sooner, but I’ve seen so many places do that and then they aren’t able to pay back the loan and they close,” Lang said. “Instead, we’re paying cash for everything to ensure that doesn’t happen. We want to open debt free. We are a grassroots, small nonprofit and we’re not relying on tax money or getting any corporate grants, so it will take a while.”
Though the timeline is lengthy, Lang said the completion of the grading work is a major milestone for the project. While nothing can be seen except a concrete slab, the groundwork was essential. Now, the property has the plumbing needed for water and sewer, there is an upgraded well and the organization is ready to have a 38,000-gallon fire tank installed, which will be hooked up to the aquarium’s future fire sprinkler system.
Once all the necessities are in place, Lang said the first of two buildings will be constructed. The first building will be the Aquaculture Building. The 6,000 square-foot Aquaculture Building will not house the main aquarium, but will be the place where Aquarius Aquarium Institute raises fish that will eventually live at the aquarium. At first, Lang said, the building will not be open to the general public on a daily basis
“The Aquaculture Building is not the aquarium,” Lang said. “There will be special days when visitors can come and see the fish and anyone can join our nonprofit so they can see it, but hours will be limited…The building will only be 6,000 square feet, so it’s not Monterey Bay Aquarium, at least not yet. We do have 10 acres total to work with compared to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is only 3.5 acres, so we definitely have the potential to grow into something like that, but we’re going to grow it organically.”
How fast the aquarium comes to fruition depends on the generosity of those in the community, Lang said.
Individuals and businesses can make tax deductible donations of any amount, and those interested in being more involved can become charter members of the Aquarius Aquarium Institute for as little as $100 annually (or $25 for students).
Those interested can also purchase a concrete block as part of the Fresno Aquarium’s From the Ground Up capital campaign. As of late September, the campaign has sold 1,563 blocks for a total of $274,100 raised for the Aquaculture Building and its associated infrastructure. The goal of the campaign is to raise $730,000.
There are still more than 1,000 large concrete blocks ($200) and more than 2,500 small concrete blocks ($100) available. These blocks can be engraved with a person or company’s name.