ALBANY, Ga. — Given what many are calling a “temporary reprieve” and what Executive Director Sanders Lewallen labeled “a fighting chance,” the financially strapped Flint RiverQuarium received a $150,000 cash injection from the Albany City Commission Tuesday morning.
With Commissioners Tommie Postell and Bob Langstaff voting against, the commission decided to supply $50,000 to the state-owned aquarium for each of the next three months as Lewallen and a group of the attraction’s ardent supporters try to find long-term funding that will keep the RiverQuarium open.
“This gives us a fighting chance, and that’s what we were asking for,” Lewallen said after the commission’s vote at a special called meeting. “I’m confident we’ll be able to find other funding sources now that we’ve been given a little breathing room.
“There are larger granting foundations that we haven’t even approached in the last several years, and we’re going to make an appeal to all of them. This gives us a chance to stay alive and fight again.”
Langstaff made it clear that he did not support funding the aquarium.
“I hope the RiverQuarium does well, but I’m not going to vote for this,” he said. “I don’t see a light at the end of this tunnel; I see it as something we’re going to have to do again and again and again. If we’re going to be a funding source for the RiverQuarium, we’re going to have to have a say about the cuts, too.
“My wife and I support and have contributed to the RiverQuarium, and I want badly for it to succeed. But I don’t want to do it this way, by throwing money at it.”
Langstaff criticized aquarium officials for not coming up with a plan to cut costs even deeper than they had.
“I keep dancing around this, but the truth is you have an executive director at the RiverQuarium making an almost six-figure salary and an executive director of Chehaw, and I believe one person could do both,” the Ward V commissioner said. “There’s got to be a better way than giving them 50 grand a month and saying ‘Have at it.’”
Postell asked Lewallen if he could guarantee additional funding would come in if the city approved the infusion of cash.
“I can’t assure anything; I don’t have a crystal ball,” Lewallen said. “But we’ll need around $300,000 in addition to the $600,000 we bring in from receipts at the RiverQuarium to meet our budget. If we get half of that from you, I think we can raise the other $150,000 pretty quickly. We have some supporters who’ve indicated they want to help.”
Postell called Lewallen’s comments “hypothetical.”
“I don’t deal in hypothetical; I deal in reality,” the Ward VI commissioner said. “You can’t give me a guarantee, so we’ll be left playing Russian roulette with taxpayer money.”
Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said the RiverQuarium’s budget cuts show that officials there are serious about making the attraction self-sufficient.
“The RiverQuarium was given to us by the state, and I believe we have an obligation to do everything we can to keep it open,” Hubbard said. “We’ve been supporting Chehaw (with more than $1 million annually) over the years, and I feel we have an obligation to support our other quality-of-life facilities as well.
“When you go to these boards and foundations in search of funding, they want to know how much support you have in your community. I want to go on record as being in favor of what you do.”
Lewallen said he will begin fundraising efforts immediately.