RiverQuarium gets cash infusion from business community

ALBANY — Albany’s Flint RiverQuarium, a key to the city’s downtown development plan, has received an infusion of cash from business leaders and companies in Dougherty and Lee counties to ensure the tourist attraction keeps its doors open.

Faison Middleton, speaking at a news conference Tuesday afternoon at Flint RiverQuarium, said $320,000 in cash has been pledged both this year and next fiscal year.

“This moves us out of survival mode from day to day,” said Tommy Gregors, chief operating officer for Flint RiverQuarium and executive director for Thronateeska Heritage Foundation.

The pledges from the business community join a $150,000 allocation from the Albany City Commission, revenue generated from those attending the attraction and a handful of existing grants to make up the $1.2 million annual budget.

Middleton said a group of Albany business leaders met earlier this year in an ad-hoc capacity “to see what could be done to help a quality of life asset that needed a little help.”

“We wanted 50 business folks to come together and try to raise $495,000 this year and $495,000 next year … a two-year commitment,” he said. “That was the deficit in the budget.

“We haven’t quite met our goal yet, but we’ve raised over $320,000 in cash with the total at $490,000 if you count the in-kind commitments.”

Middleton said board members of the attraction have learned that “this place cannot run itself on ticket sales and memberships and fund raising. We’re not unique in that.”

Gregors said RiverQuarium staffers and volunteers will be pushing hard to get grants and foundation funds in the coming months.

“You go to these granting agencies and the first question they ask is what support do you get from the local community,” Gregors said. “We have to show that support and communicate that back to them.”

Albany banker Luke Flatt said Flint RiverQuarium is vital to Albany and Southwest Georgia for three reasons.

The first value he mentioned was its educational aspect. Secondly, the tourism dollars generated by RiverQuarim contribute greatly to local businesses, Flatt said.

Finally, it’s a quality of life issue, he said.

“The RiverQuarium, along with other things, attract new businesses to this community. Any business that comes into Southwest Georgia affects jobs throughout the area. These companies look for quality-of-life issues, and having a resource like this is a quality of life issue,” Flatt said.

Faison said he would like to see the effort extended to a “100 for Southwest Georgia” title because of the benefit to the areas outside Dougherty and Lee counties.

Gregors said the RiverQuarium operates with a staff of eight full-time workers and 14 part-time employees. Two of the eight full-time workers are volunteers, he said.

Gregors also noted that he is looking at ways to further benefit the ongoing cooperation between RiverQuarium and Thronateeska.

Also instrumental in the 50 for Albany effort are RiverQuarium board member John Culbreath and interim volunteer RiverQuarium director Emily Jean McAfee.