A beloved attraction in Dallas’ Fair Park for the past 84 years is now permanently closed.
The state’s first aquarium could not survive the financial hit brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park has provided generations of kids an up-close and underwater tour of the world since 1936.
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“It’s a shame to see it go. It really is,” said Gregg Hudson, president and CEO of the Dallas Zoo.
The decision to close the city-owned attraction was made by the Dallas Zoo which manages the non-profit as part of a contract with the city of Dallas.
“Unfortunately, because of all the other things that are happening with the pandemic it’s just going to be one of the casualties for that,” he said.
Hudson revealed the aquarium located inside Fair Park had been operating at a loss, year after year.
Low attendance numbers lead to revenue losses of between $150,000 and $300,000, said Hudson.
The city, he said, had been ‘underwriting’ any operating losses on an annual basis.
But 2020, brought COVID-19 restrictions and even greater losses.
The aquarium has been closed to the public since March. Hudson estimates 150,000 people would visit the aquarium every year.
It lost revenue from daily visitors, including school field trips.
“And on top of that our busiest time of the year was actually late September, early October because of the fair,” said Hudson.
The State Fair of Texas, also at Fair Park, which has been drastically cut back due to the coronavirus.
The aquarium ‘would do about almost half of its attendance during that period of time,” he said. “So the losses for this year because of the pandemic were almost $600,000.”
Hudson said that’s money that neither the city’s park’s department which funds the aquarium, nor the zoo could pay.
“We’ve been losing quite a bit of revenue this year as well so we weren’t in a position to underwrite those losses as well,” he said. “We would have ended up cutting more at the zoo which we couldn’t do anymore.”
The Dallas Zoo, he said, is making about a $10 million cut to its operating budget, has furloughed 100 employees and has also temporarily paused its $150 million master plan expansion project until the pandemic passes.
The zoo has also closed its Adventure Safari Monorail.
“And so we couldn’t afford to take on any more losses,” said Hudson.
Several people have taken to social media to express disappointment over the decision to close the aquarium.
“It was a really cool place, so it really is really heartbreaking to see it go,” said Monica Valdez.
Valdez said she has visited the aquarium several times over the years and had been looking forward to taking her one-year-old son to the affordable ‘gem’ in the heart of Dallas.
“It really is sad, really sad, to see that the city wasn’t able to come up with the shortfall for it,” she said.
Hudson said a plan is slowly being made to find new homes for the animals that called the children’s aquarium home, specifically accredited zoos.
It is also possible the Dallas Zoo could take in some of the animals.
“We’re proud of the history of the aquarium. We’re sad this day has come but unfortunately the circumstance just won’t let us do it any other way,” said Hudson.
All hope is not lost.
City council member Adam Bazaldua, who represents Fair Park, tells NBC 5: ‘My family and I are saddened at this news just as the majority of the community that I have spoken with, and I believe that the best path forward would be for a private entity with private dollars to save this jewel for our city.’
Asked if he welcomes the idea, Hudson agreed.
“It’s an important part of Fair Park and we want it to become thriving again,” he said.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.