ADICA reaches agreement with RiverQuarium

Pact calls for support of attraction from development authority

The new Waffle House restaurant planned for downtown Albany will be located at the former site of a bank drive-through along North Oglethorpe Boulevard adjacent to the Hilton Garden Inn. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

The new Waffle House restaurant planned for downtown Albany will be located at the former site of a bank drive-through along North Oglethorpe Boulevard adjacent to the Hilton Garden Inn. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — The agreement with the Flint RiverQuarium approved in principle by the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority board at its monthly meeting Wednesday offers a level of assurance for the group operating the downtown attraction, according to the facility’s director.

Tommy Gregors, who also serves as executive director of the Thronateeska Heritage Center and is an ADICA board member, said Thursday the RiverQuarium/ADICA agreement gives the attraction a partner in its marketing and fundraising efforts.

“Certainly this agreement does not commit ADICA to any funding on behalf of the RiverQuarium,” Gregors said. “You can’t ask a group to commit to something it simply cannnot do. But ADICA can lend support to our fundraising and marketing efforts so that we no longer stand alone. ADICA can lend its credibility in efforts to sell the attraction to individuals and groups, and our agreement could open the possibility for grants that require involvement by a governmental agency.”

The 40-year agreement, which will not be officially approved by the ADICA board until City Attorney Nathan Davis “adjusts some of the flowery words and whereases,” also aligns with a 50-year intergovernmental agreement between ADICA and the state’s Department of Natural Resources that makes the development authority ultimately “responsible for the acquisition, construction, equipping and operation” of the aquarium.

“When you go back to the original agreement, ADICA is charged with assuring that the RiverQuarium is properly run,” Gregors said. “ADICA reached an agreement with Flint RiverQuarium Inc. to operate the facility when it opened, but for some reason it was only a 10-year agreement. I wasn’t involved then so I don’t know the reason, but (the new agreement) matches up with the agreement ADICA has with DNR.

“As it was, the agreement between ADICA and Flint RiverQuarium Inc. would expire on April 17.”

Downtown Manager Aaron Blair, who also serves as president/CEO of ADICA, said stability is a crucial element of the new agreement.

“Nathan is making sure that the language of the agreement does not obligate ADICA to any funding for the RiverQuarium,” Blair said Thursday. “ADICA does not have the authority to obligate any taxpayer funding. But this new agreement gives the RiverQuarium the stability of having an agency in place that will serve as its partner in promotions and fundraising.”

Specifically, the agreement says, “(ADICA) recognizes its responsibility to support the successful operation of the Flint Riverquarium as it relates to the intergovernmental agreement with the DNR. (ADICA) will support (the RiverQquarium’s) efforts to secure funding from public and private sources.”

Davis said he will tweak the language of the paragraph to assure there are no future questions over ADICA’s funding responsibility as it relates to the RiverQuarium.

“Essentially, the agreement will say that ADICA is willing to commit to the idea that improvements to and funds raised by the RiverQuarium benefit ADICA and downtown,” the city attorney said. “That certainly could include (ADICA) joining with RiverQuarium officials to make a pitch for funding from the Albany City Commission.”

Gregors said that the agreement also makes ADICA responsible for finding a suitable agency or individual to run the RiverQuarium should Flint RiverQuarium Inc. choose not to go forward with that responsibility.

“We certainly don’t foresee that happening,” Gregors said. “But it does put a contingency plan in place.”

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the ADICA board approved a $450,000 bond draw-down to finance the remainder of the cost to finish the canoe/kayak launches under construction along the Flint River, the final quarter of the authority’s facade grant program and “private-sector” funding that will allow for the acquisition of property for the new downtown Waffle House restaurant and development of a master plan for the 100 Block South along West Broad Avenue. That plan would include a new hotel and conference space.

The authority board also approved purchase of a lot at 425 Residence Ave. to be used in development of the Old Northside neighborhood.

“The great thing about that purchase, especially for the city, is that the property had a (roughly $10,000) demolition lien on it, which was paid off by the property owner before he put the lot on the market,” Blair said. “We were able to purchase it for $3,735.16, which is a very good price.”

Other business at the meeting included the introduction of two new ADICA board members — Martin Carter, whose family owns and operates Carter’s Grill and Restaurant, and Michael Stewart, who works with the Buckley & Associates architectural firm — and re-election of at-large board member David Prisant.