State considers privatization of aquariums

Source: Shannan Bowen,, September 18, 2011

While a state report is underway on how government-owned attractions should operate, the nonprofit N.C. Aquarium Society is preparing plans to privatize the state’s three aquariums and related facilities.

The shift to private ownership is likely to be addressed or even recommended in a report by the state’s Program Evaluation Division, which is reviewing operations of all state-owned attractions, including historic sites, state parks, aquariums and the N.C. Zoo. But the report won’t be public until March, and there’s little information about how privatizing the aquariums would impact state plans to build two fishing piers in addition to Jennette’s Pier, a $25 million project that opened in May with more than $10 million in support from the state….

…According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, 54 percent of facilities, aquariums and zoos combined, are nonprofit institutions, whereas 35 percent are public….

…The society’s financial and organizational models, so far, assume the state would maintain ownership of the aquarium properties but lease them to the society. Conoley said the society would request that the state contribute some funding, perhaps up to 35 percent of the aquariums’ total budget. “It would save the state several million dollars a year to do this,” he said. But, at least over time, admission fees could increase to cover some costs, Conoley added. Privatization also could mean less state appropriated money for aquarium pier projects….

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