Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Tuesday, December 11, 2001

FW Zoo wants to demolish aquarium

Star-Telegram Staff Writer
(Images added by WhoZoo)

Fort Worth Zoo officials are preparing to tell the city that they plan to demolish the 47-year-old aquarium and build a reptile house on the site.

FORT WORTH - Six months after completing its crown jewel exhibit on Texas wildlife and a decade after switching to private management, the Fort Worth Zoo enters a new phase with plans to close the aquarium and build a new reptile house.

The James R. Record Aquarium and the unnamed herpetarium are the last vestiges of the zoo's distant past. They are the only exhibits in the 60-acre zoo that look the same as they did 10 years ago when the Fort Worth Zoological Association assumed day-to-day operations of the park.

Today, the zoo's top leaders - association President Ardon Moore and zoo Director Michael Fouraker - will update the City Council at the halfway mark of the association's 20-year contract with the city.

In announcing that they would like to tear down the aquarium, they will introduce the concept of a larger off-site aquarium, but only with city help and money. The zoo is city-owned but run by the private zoo association, which took over in 1991.

Zoo leaders have known for several years that something needs to improve the aquarium and herpetarium. The time is now, they said, because of a convergence of serious structural problems, the availability of city bond money and an upcoming accreditation visit by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

"We got 50 years' worth of life out of these buildings," Moore said. "That's more than was expected. Now our job is to think about the next 50 years. Over the next five to 10 years, we will ask the city and ourselves to think about how Fort Worth might build a better, more modern aquarium."

The Fort Worth Zoo, one of the oldest in the state, draws about 1.1 million visitors a year, although that figure has increased about 10 percent to 15 percent since the Texas Wild! exhibit opened in June.

The zoo association has $1.3 million from a 1998 bond package earmarked for repairs to the aquarium and herpetarium. But Moore and Fouraker will ask the City Council to allow them to spend the money building a new herpetarium, rather than continue to repair the aging buildings.

"The aquarium has continued to deteriorate, and it's not fiscally responsible to continue to spend money on it," Fouraker said. "As we start adding up what needs to be done, we can't put a dent in it with the repair money available."

If the plans move ahead, Fouraker anticipates closing the aquarium "pretty quickly" so that staff can distribute the fish and penguins to other zoos. The five people who work in the aquarium, Fouraker said, will be offered other jobs within the zoo.

The current herpetarium would stay open until the new building is complete on the aquarium site, probably in 2004. Fouraker said the zoo can build a 6,500-square-foot herpetarium - about 1,500-square-feet smaller than the current one - for $1.3 million.

A smaller herpetarium would have fewer small tanks and more large, naturalistic tanks, Fouraker said.

"We'll make inquiries about private support, although we just came off a $40 million campaign" for Texas Wild!, Fouraker said. "We know we can do a nice facility with the money that exists."

The aquarium, built in 1954 with $50,000 from Amon G. Carter Sr. and his foundation, was a marvel in its day. It was the sixth-largest aquarium in the nation and drew 500,000 visitors its first year.

Children paid a dime and adults paid 20 cents to see the fish, which swam as most still do today in water drawn from an underground well.

Six years later, zoo officials opened the herpetarium, an extensive collection of reptiles that has fueled the zoo's conservation efforts for decades and continues to be one of the zoo's most popular attractions.

But while the zoo association spent more than $80 million in the past decade to build new exhibits such as World of Primates, Flamingo Bay and Texas Wild!, it spent $1 million in repairs on the aquarium and herpetarium.

"From the public's perspective, they still look pretty good," Fouraker said. "They put on a good appearance. But we have to work hard at it. Every day, we're putting more money into a sieve."

Among the problems Fouraker and Director of Animal Programs Bob Wiese cited: