Sanders Lewallen, CEO of Flint RiverQuarium, says that the facility is a “very expensive operation to run,” and that there hasn’t been a serious fundraising campaign in more than three years. Lewallen calls the RiverQuarium’s financial situation “manageable.”
ALBANY, Ga. — Sanders Lewallen, CEO of the Flint RiverQuarium, has been in office since June. “That’s long enough,” he said Tuesday, “to know how broke we are.”
Speaking at a lunch meeting of the Dougherty County Rotary Club, Lewallen told the group “there hasn’t been a serious fundraiser for the facility in four or five years.”
“I believe that the reason I was hired was to raise money for this wonderful attraction we have here,” Lewallen said. “In the past, that has been something I’ve done pretty well. What we have to do is to raise more money from every source we can, and that includes revenues, private donations, grants of of all kinds and even government support. We don’t have years to work on this.”
Lewallen called it “unfortunate” that when the RiverQuarium was built, citizens were told it would be “self-sustaining.” He urged Albanians to think more about the revenue the attraction brings to the city each year. Lewallen the facility brings up to $40 million to the local economy through food, gas and hotel room purchases.
That total revenue figure is generated by a combination of area attractions, however, and it’s hard to attribute RiverQuarium’s specific contribution, Lewallen said.
According to Lewallen, The RiverQuarium continues to generate income, not only by ticket sales but also by the the presentation of special events and by renting out space in the facility for events.
“Fundraising, especially during these difficult economic times, is a real challenge,” Lewallen said. “We’re only seven years old and we are a very expensive operation to run. If you ever thought about becoming a member, now’s the time.”
Lewallen compared The RiverQuarium with other area attractions — specifically the Albany Museum of Art, Chehaw and the Albany Civil Rights Institute —as he spoke of the progress made in Albany toward attracting industry and tourism.
“There’s not a place in the country that wouldn’t be crowing about what we’ve done here,” Lewallen said. “I know I am. At the RiverQuarium, we feel like we’re the jewel of the Flint. When a company is thinking of relocating, these are the kinds of things it looks at.”
Lewallen acknowledged that support of the RiverQuarium by the city of Albany is scheduled to end in June 2012. Dougherty County has already discontinued its funding of the facility. He remains optimistic, though, of the prospects for additional outside funding, calling the need for money a “manageable situation.”
According to Lewallen, the fundraising process is now in the first, or “quiet,” stage in which nothing is announced or appears to be active.
“We’re going to people now who have supported us in the past,” Lewallen said, “and just asking them for advice. These are the people who have believed in what we’re doing, who will have good ideas toward the directions we need to take. I only wish we could have started this process three or four years ago.”