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Norwalk Council delays vote on new Maritime Aquarium $1 lease – again

Watts
Councilman David Watts (D-District A) chats with Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola during a recess at Tuesday’s Council meeting.

Updated, 12:51 p.m.: Comment from Tom Hennick.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Maritime Aquarium is still waiting for an answer from the Norwalk Common Council, as its proposed new lease was tabled Tuesday after prolonged protest by Councilman David Watts (D-District A).

Watts said the aquarium should give back to the city in return for the $1 a year lease effective through 2031, and he had something specific in mind – a week-long free summer class open to 75 Norwalk children for three weeks of the first year of the lease and open to 100 children for four weeks in the second year of the lease.

He also protested the fact that the lease had not been on the agenda until Tuesday morning; Freedom of Information rules require that items be on the agenda 24 hours in advance of a meeting. The Democratic caucus did not have the opportunity to discuss the lease, Watts said, because it had not been on the agenda.

Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) countered that the lease had been on the Council’s agenda for two previous meetings and had been tabled. The minutes that were included in the Council packet clearly stated that it had been tabled to the next meeting – the one on Tuesday, so everyone should have expected it, he said. In addition, everyone had voted to table it to the next meeting so they should have been aware of it, Hempstead said. The public had had ample opportunity to comment on the matter, as it had, as previously stated, been on two agendas, he said. No one had come to speak to the Council on the matter, Hempstead said.

Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said three times that he thought the matter met FOI requirements for the reasons mentioned by Hempstead. Watts pressed the issue over and over. After more than 40 minutes of conversation on the matter, a two-minute recess was called. The Council then voted to both put it on the agenda and table the matter, although it had appeared that a majority of members would vote to approve the lease.

Regarding the repeated statements that the aquarium needed to give something back to the city for its “free” lease, Attorney Rebecca Brown of Shipman and Goodwin, representing the aquarium, said, “I just want to make it clear that it’s not that we’re only paying $1 a year. We’re paying $1 a year rent plus we’re taking on all of the expenses and the capital improvements and the repairs to actually maintain the building. So you’re talking about a structural shell, everything inside it, all of the systems. You’re also talking about everything that is pertinent to the building, everything around it, so we will take care of the sidewalks as well. … This is an aging building, we’re going to tell you, the city, you no longer have to worry about that.”

Watts asked how much the bond that funded the construction of the aquarium, which was recently forgiven by the city, had been, although it’s been widely reported that the bond was $30 million. Given the answer as “30,” Watts asked, “How much was that, $30,000?” Given the “$30 million” figure as an answer, Watts theatrically repeated “$30 million,” three times.

“In exchange for $30 million – and you’re not done, you’re not done with asking,” Watts then said. “Now, ‘after you pay off the $30 million, give me a lease for $1.’”

Brown said the maintenance would be 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Watts also protested that the aquarium recruits well-off people for its trustees. In the interest of fairness, the aquarium should recruit people from South Norwalk, Watts said, because that is where it is located.  The aquarium had just purchased a $2.8 million research vessel, he said.

“They could do more for the city’s residents,” Watts said. “There are kids who I feel can benefit from going through a one week program, to allow them to explore the inner workings and get behind the scenes and travel on that wonderful $2.8 million vessel they have.”

If the aquarium could afford the research vessel it could afford the program for children, Watts said.

Brown pointed out that the vessel was a gift to the aquarium.

Watts pointed out aquarium President Jennifer Herring is retiring and said that something should be put in place for the new CEO with a real commitment to Norwalk youth. “If they don’t want to do the program, then maybe they should consider paying rent.”

Maggio asked what Herring’s retirement had to do with it.

“It goes to show the long-term vision of the aquarium,” Watts said.

Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) asked Herring and Brown to quantify what the aquarium does so the dollar value can be compared to the proposed lease. She referred to the recent Saturday where Norwalk residents were allowed in for free.

“Norwalk gives away a lot of things for free,” Bowman said. “We don’t want to break your bank, we know you need to make money to keep things going, but we just want to get something back. You know our kids, we got great feedback about your first free day, so we just want to see more of that. Because the parents … that’s big for our families.”

Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said the lease had been discussed at a number of committee meetings.

“This is a big deal, taking on the capital expenses. This is a big deal for them, a big responsibility,” Kimmel said. “Like I said, my fingers are crossed. Forget the debt, my fingers are crossed about them being able to cover future capital expenses. I personally would have no problem with the city stepping in into help if there was some problem, catastrophe, something like that. The Maritime Aquarium is an integral part of our city. It’s not some alien private outfit that has moved in and set up shop and they want to make some money, we should treat it that way. So I think this is really balanced and I like the way it was worked out.”

Watts made a motion to table the item. It failed.

Watts called for a roll call vote. “I call for a roll call vote because this is clearly letting down the kids in Norwalk,” Watts said.

Bowman called for a point of order, saying that the Council couldn’t vote on it because it had not been noticed. Coppola said, for the third time, that from a legal standpoint it was fair to move forward. Bowman said the rules would have to be suspended to add the motion to the agenda.

Hempstead called it a dilemma. There had been public participation two meetings previous. It was tabled to a date certain twice, he said.

Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said Watts had been at a negotiation meeting and talked about the lease with the aquarium’s trustees.

Watts threatened to file an FOI complaint. It was agreed that there would be a two-minute recess. On his way to the caucus chamber, Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B) stopped to angrily address John Kydes (D-District C) before being admonished by Mayor Harry Rilling to hash it out in private. Kydes did not enter the caucus room during the recess.

The item was then tabled for the third time.

At a recent meeting of the Parking Authority, Herring said, “The board of the major donors are becoming quite concerned that there has been no agreement has been reached on either the lease or the parking agreement. Further delay could jeopardize the contributed income that pays for about 25 percent of our operating budget.”

Asked for an opinion Wednesday, Tom Hennick of the Freedom of Information Commission said the legality of voting on the matter hinged on what type of meeting it was.

A meeting held at its usual date and time is a described under FOIA as a “regular” meeting. A meeting held on a different day is a “special” meeting.

“If it was a regular meeting, then the council could have voted to add the item to the agenda (2/3 approval needed) and it would have been in complete compliance,” Hennick wrote. “If, however, it was a special meeting, then it should not have been added as no items can be added to the agenda of a special meeting.”

Comments

44 responses to “Norwalk Council delays vote on new Maritime Aquarium $1 lease – again”

  1. John Hamlin

    More evidence of a dysfunctional common council. Certain members are just menaces with no judgment. The Acquarium lease should be approved immediately — it’s too important an asset to the city to play with for the sake of petty political ambitions. We need charter reform.

  2. TheNorwalker

    I think that the Maritime Center serves a more diverse group of Norwalk Citizens than the Oak Hills Golf Course and any future expansion of the Golf Facilities!

  3. Casey Smith

    Watts said the aquarium should give back to the city in return for the $1 a year lease effective through 2031, and he had something specific in mind – a week-long free summer class open to 75 Norwalk children for three weeks of the first year of the lease and open to 100 children for four weeks in the second year of the lease.

    Is this kind of request/demand legal?

  4. Piberman

    No problem spending millions for golfers but unable to recognize the Aquarium as our City’s splendid asset and downtown anchor. No wonder Council members are not considered “public servants”. Sad day.

  5. EveT

    Does one individual Council member have the power to suddenly devise a summer youth program on the fly and have it become a requirement of the lease?

  6. concerned student

    What asset to the city? The Aquarium cost the city 30 million dollars or did you forget that?
    the Aquarium should give back to the community.
    We can’t even generate tax revenue from the Aquarium.
    I may be young but I’m sure the city would not allow me to occupy a building rent free while they payout a 30 million dollar debt.

  7. LWitherspoon

    Not content with saddling the aquarium with cleaning expenses that are higher than market level, Mr. Watts now seeks to extort a free summer camp. Who will pay the cost of staff to run the camp? Might Mr. Watts himself be interested in being paid to run the camp?

  8. ScopeonNorwalk

    The Maritime Center needs to step up and give more back to the City of Norwalk. 5,500 students on average of $15 per ticket is $82,500.

    The City paid $30,000,000 to have the building built for the Aquarium and is not receiving any rent.

    At this rate, it would take the aquarium 363 years for their contributions to the City of Norwalk to equal what the City put into it to build it. On top of that, they are still only paying $1 rent.

    What they are doing currently doing, is hardly close to what they should be doing.

  9. mollyB

    Why would any parent or grandparent object to a free summer youth program? I guess there’s always a few Ebenezer’s who would say “Bah Humbug!” to anything positive for kids.

    Would the program be inclusive to all? If so…. thumbs up!

  10. EastNorwalkChick

    Once again Mr. Watts is grandstanding with no legitimate grounds to do so, maybe he should read his packets before going to council meetings…

  11. LWitherspoon

    I enjoyed this part: “Watts theatrically repeated “$30 million,” three times”. More bad theatrics from someone who loves the spotlight but whose performances are consistently panned by Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike.

    Nancy, I believe the aquarium already holds educational programs for city schoolchildren, but I do not know the details. Perhaps you can shine a light on what’s already in place.

  12. Tim D

    It seems like the Council is turning into the board of Ed.

    Concerned Student – geez, I wonder who you really are.

  13. Joanne Romano

    Oh boy, a bit more grandstanding in the works. While I have never understood why the original loan was unpaid and ultimately forgiven, the Aquarium does have a certain allure to travelers far and wide and does bring paying visitors to Norwalk thus helping the merchants and ultimately resulting in revenues for the city. Because it is situated in Norwalk and uses Norwalk land and services perhaps there should be passes for Norwalk Students to attend functions etc. at the Aquarium on specific dates etc. (not sure if this isn’t already happening) But, to try to strong arm a lease to a specific cause must be about the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard. Has Mr. Watts figured out yet that there are children in other parts of Norwalk? Has he figured out that many of them are at or below middle income and many are at poverty level? So kindly tell me how a demand for South Norwalk specific is representing the entire town? Someone needs to remind Mr. Watts that once elected to the Common Council or any other position within the city you now represent “EVERYONE” not just one section or one people. You are elected to serve “ALL” and that goes for any and all elected officials whether local, state or federal. Besides, if I remember correctly Mr. Watts lives in District “A” or is it District “C”??? not sure anymore….Oh well, I wish one Council meeting could go according to protocol and not political grandstanding. While I no longer live in Norwalk, I read the Hour and NON every day and still have my heartstrings in the town I lived for 39 years and served for 20. Grandstanding for political gain does such a disservice to everyone and continually categorizing children into certain sections of town is never going to help them achieve their goals. You have to show kids they are all alike and have the same opportunities. Stop holding them back!!!

    By all means Mr. Watts and friends, please tell me to mind my own business but I still have friends and relatives in Norwalk and I still believe Norwalk is a great place if only people would learn to do what’s right for everyone and not some agendas in order to climb the political ladder.

  14. concerned student

    I am exactly who I said I am.

  15. Yes, the Maritime Aquarium already holds programs for children. Every fourth grader visits the aquarium free of charge, I believe. I’ll get you more specifics later.
    In addition, Jennifer Herring said that the programs are likely to expand due to Superintendent Rivera’s interest and enthusiasm.

  16. Joanne Romano

    Oh well then, problem solved …they can expand what is already in place with the help of Superintendent Rivera’s input and could eventually include programs for all elementary age children and possibly reduced entrance for upper grades and there would be no need to strong arm the lease.

  17. mollyB

    Romano’s dissertation/rant is just politics as usual. Does she have any kids in the school system and would she really protest a summer youth program. I don’t agree with Mr. Watts’ politics but a broken clock is right two times a day.

    Some of these negative commentators are most likely to turn their lights out during Halloween Day… just to avoid children. Parents and Grandparents want nothing but the best education and experiences for their kids. Why not support a summer youth program? The Norwalk Aquarium should give back to the city.

  18. Joanne Romano

    mollyB- No, as you can see by what I wrote I do not have children in the system nor do I reside in Norwalk any longer but my child and grandchildren did attend Norwalk schools and I was very much involved in PTA’s and PTO’s as well as any other programs associated with the children as well as serving on the Human Relations Commission for 4 terms and the Common Council for 3 so please don’t say that my concerns are political because politics has no place in the upbringing of children and if one feels the need to use children as pawns in there political games they need change their professions.

  19. Dawn

    Watts also protested that the aquarium recruits well-off people for its trustees. In the interest of fairness, the aquarium should recruit people from South Norwalk, Watts said, because that is where it is located.

    Do i read correct. Mr. Watts is unhappy about the makeup of the trustees. What does he think the urpose of trustees is. MONEY!!!! The well off trustees GIVE GIVE GIVE!!!!

  20. LWitherspoon

    @mollyB

    I have no objection to a free summer youth program. In fact I believe it’s such a great thing that you should personally write a check to fund the entire cost of one for all of SoNo’s underserved children. What’s that? Funds are tight? Well they’re tight for the Aquarium too, yet that didn’t stop you from making the same demand of the Aquarium.

    My issue is with politicians who seek to extort a free program from a non-profit organization that is strapped for cash. Especially when, as Nancy reported above, all City 4th graders already visit the Aquarium for free and the Aquarium is already talking about expanding its collaboration with Norwalk schools.

  21. Oldtimer

    Maybe he thinks the volunteers get paid.

  22. John Hamlin

    The demand for a youth program is just another outburst from an entitlement-obsessed political panderer. The Aquarium deserves support from the City and its council. Perhaps this is just another reason why Mr Watts seems to have lost the respect of so many in the community.

  23. Let me weigh in with what is so often missing in these discussions — facts.

    First, the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk (TMA) is a non-profit entity that was selected by the City to carry out a CITY policy — the creation and management of a regional attraction to anchor the revitalization of South Norwalk. This has been City policy since Bill Collins was mayor in the 1970’s. The discussion of having TMA “give back” to the City is nonsensical — all it has EVER done is “give back.” It makes no profits; it has no shareholders; it exists solely to further the City policy of rebuilding South Norwalk. It covers all of its operating expenses from revenues, using no tax money for that purpose. And it adds major economic benefits to the City (specifically South Norwalk). The $30 million spent by the City was spent to further these City policies, and it was used to build the Aquarium – the money was all spent here.

    An economic analysis performed in 2003 concluded that TMA generated at that time about $20 million of additional economic activity in Norwalk each year, including about $5 million in earnings to Norwalk residents earned through 215 jobs (at the Aquarium and generated around it due to the Aquarium). See http://www.maritimeaquarium.org/images/stories/pdf/EconImpactStudy.pdf. There is little doubt among the people who have been working on the revitalization of SoNo that much of the new construction in the vicinity of the Aquarium simply wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t there. Nor would the jobs and the tax revenue generated by that construction.

    The Aquarium has been working cooperatively with the City and the school system for years to help Norwalk citizens and students, above and beyond the economic benefits noted above. It provides free admission to Norwalk residents on a periodic basis (this fall on Oct. 4, Nov. 1 and Dec. 6). Jefferson School, our national-award-winning Science Magnet School, has on ongoing partnership with the Aquarium for the benefit of its (largely minority) student body. We should certainly continue to explore ways to extend interactions between the Aquarium and the schools, but the cooperation with Jefferson wasn’t mandated by a lease requirement and I see no justification for treating other forms of cooperation any differently.

    Just as I am mystified by the often unjust attacks on our public schools, I am equally mystified by attacks on the second biggest tourist attraction in the state and a major engine of revitalization for South Norwalk. I’m not saying either the schools or the Aquarium are perfect, but neither deserves the bashing they sometimes get here.

    Let’s continue to work cooperatively with the Aquarium for the good of our City. Propose new ways of enhancing that relationship, by all means, but let’s keep the strong benefits of the Aquarium for Norwalk foremost in mind.

  24. Watts up Doc

    Watts is right to demand more accountability from TMA. For an entity that cries poverty, they sure had no problem having full shwag rental china and silver, top shelf liquor and food for their donors for the boat launch. Not that the donors don’t deserve theirs for the 2.8 million boat (ugliest one at that you’ve ever seen), but maybe the taxpayers should get something extra for the 50 million we are about to pony over.

    Where are the bike lane freaks demanding the harbor loop trail complete its way through the riverfront?

    Watt’s repeat after me. 50 million. 50 million. 50 million.

  25. Bruce Kimmel

    Thank you Mike. Last night’s debate was difficult.

  26. Nora King

    Thank you Mike Lyons. Perfect clarity to the issue. We are lucky to have the Maritime Aquarium. As a city we have bigger issues that need to be addressed.

  27. Watts up — where’d the $50 million reference come from? Suddenly $30 million became $50 million? And the $30 million was paid long ago — we aren’t about to ‘pony over’ any funds.

  28. mollyB

    I can not believe all this vitriol over providing 75-100 kids…a place to go for the summer.

    @ Mike Lyons you have never offered anything summer science programs and you’re a joke of a chairman too.

    Parents and Grandparents should demand real results for the City’s Youth not political spin and petty personal attacks.

  29. Mike Lyons

    Molly, my comments above involve no vitriol (most of that is found on the side attacking the Aquarium). I simply pointed out the facts.

    The Norwalk schools provide a myriad of summer programs for our kids, many of them in science. We’ve also recently started summer academies at both comprehensive high schools. Our dedication to teaching science also led us to open the P-Tech Academy at Norwalk High School with NCC and IBM, the first in the state. As noted above, NPS also has cooperative programs with the Aquarium already in place for our kids.

    You’re certainly entitled to your opinion that I am a ‘joke’ as BoE Chair, but with more progress in reforming our schools made in the 2 years that I’ve been Chair than probably in the preceding 20 years (see, e.g., https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/06/opinion-a-status-report-from-the-board-of-education), others may disagree.

    As for “political spin” on the Aquarium, that’s coming from certain members of the Council, not from me.

  30. Watts up Doc

    @Mike, didn’t do to well in Finance did you?

    They call it time value series of money. $30 million in debt reduction actually amounts to about $50 million in cash outlays over time.

    Forget about the fair market value of rent for a minute, the elite who run this aquarium live pretty high on the hog while crying poverty every chance they get to soak us for more money.

    If you dug into their financials you’d find their curator makes as much as Manny does. Do you think that’s fair?

    Watts […], but he has a point.

    This comment was edited to comply with our policy against name-calling.

  31. Norewalk Lifer

    If everyone in Norwalk wants to adopt a “Stockholm syndrome” with regards to the Maritime Aquarium, let me fill you in on a few things, you have an asset to be sure, but you also have a burden.

    We should not be expected to just fork over money, year after year, to the Aquarium, there’s too much give and not enough take from my viewpoint.

    So are you actually going to say that those who come and visit the aquarium also partake of the other assets that surround the aquarium? really? like where? Donovan’s maybe? but are you going to really act like people are taking their five year olds to the Gingerman and other places?

    Of course, Sono Seaport does enjoy the bounty of the aquarium’s visitors, but hey Norwalk, how about David Watt’s proposal? would it be that much of a burden to the organization?

    After all, Wilton demands restitution from those few businesses that are harbored there, and that offering is usually given to those who need it the least.

    How about giving back to those who could use an uplifting experience like a camp at the Aquarium? again, is that too much to ask?

    Kudos to David Watts for trying to shatter that “established, well oiled, attitude” of a council filled with gray hairs and jaded participants.

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

  32. Casey Smith

    Just out of curiousity, doesn’t the Children’s Department of the Library have some kind of free pass that residents can “check out” to take their children to the Maritime Center? Or is that only Steppingstones? I remember someone telling me about that program years ago. I’d be interested in hearing about that program.

  33. Lifer – “We should not be expected to just fork over money, year after year, to the Aquarium, there’s too much give and not enough take from my viewpoint.”

    Didn’t you read the article? The lease amendment ends ‘forking over’ of money, leaving the Aquarium responsible for all maintenance and repairs of the building and equipment, even though the City owns them.

    Watts – “the 50 million we are about to pony over”. All I have is an MBA, so I guess I don’t have your financial sophistication, but “about to pony over” means we’re about to PAY $50 million in normal English, not that we’ve already paid it. Please verify your statement that we’re about to pay $50 million. There must be a line item in the City budget for such a large expenditure, right?

    As for the continued nonsense about “paying back” (with some nice class warfare language added in, now), in addition to the facts noted above about the extensive free activities the Aquarium provides for Norwalk kids, note this comment from The Hour: “Novelette Peterkin, executive director of The Carver Foundation of Norwalk, also spoke about that work. ‘The beauty of partnering with The Maritime Aquarium is our students get the opportunity to visit the IMAX Theater and the Aquarium for free,’ Peterkin said.”

  34. LWitherspoon

    @OldTimer

    Nowhere is it mentioned that a camp for 75-100 kids could be run for 3-4 weeks entirely by volunteers, with zero cost. If it can, why has the City paid thousands over the years for NEON, the Carver Center, and others to run summer day camps?

    @Nancy

    Did Mr. Watts bring up the idea of a summer camp when the lease was discussed in committee? If yes, what was the committee’s response?

  35. Michael McGuire

    It would be great if people stood up and used their own names on their blog comments. The conversation would be toned down and much more productive. Using an alias empowers people to bully others.

    Case in point – just look at the level of thoughtful discussion that happens by and between those people using their real names over the course of the past 6 months in some very heated Norwalk topics. You can see those discussions having an impact on the Council and Mayor.

    Now weigh that against the noise and cheap shots that come from those using an alias. I’m not saying all alias users are to blame but the level is increasing.

    Want another example – consider Red Apples, an on-line blog founded by Lisa Thomson around 4 years ago to shed a light on Norwalk’s troubled schools. It gave power back to the people. In its short time huge strides have been made in Norwalk schools and will continue thanks in large part to Lisa’s efforts.

    To comment on Red Apples you had to sign up and your name was stated in your blog. The debates were testy at times but you knew who you were speaking to so decency and decorum prevailed with great results. We need that here. We all bring something to the table, but if you really want a seat at the table don’t use an alias.

    @NoN – I would encourage you to adopt the Red Apples no alias format. You have become a voice for the people, please don’t have this wonderful venue high jacked and marginalized by the unproductive noise of aliases.

  36. mollyB

    The city has over 80,000 residents and the more summer youth program offered the better. Does the aquarium offer programs that appeal to 4 graders and a free admission partnership with Carver? Yes

    What about the rest of the kids?

    A Norwalk family of four would pay the same admission price as a Stamford, Darien or Westport resident. The only difference is the Norwalk resident is subsidizing the aquarium by paying off a 30 million dollar bond and giving the aquarium free rent. Not fair at all!

    Mike Lyons reads off a few aquarium talking points and that somehow justifies the huge investment. Mr. Lyons runs his meetings the same way put out a few facts/talking points and then makes excuses.

    The aquarium should give back and help Norwalk Youth. Period!

  37. Don’t Panic

    @Witherspoon

    “My issue is with politicians who seek to extort a free program from a non-profit organization that is strapped for cash. ”

    Agreed that this was a really tasteless move on the council floor, but the real question is why this organization is “strapped for cash”. Somehow this venue (which has patrons capable of writing million dollar checks) is magically generating more economic value for the nearby businesses than it is for itself.

    It’s funny that OldTimer mentions the volunteers. During the recent parking authority kerfluffle, I was stunned to find out how much of the labor in that Aquarium is done on a volunteer basis. It’s tough to figure out how much work was left for those 215 jobs Lyons mentioned, which amounts to a little over $23,000 a year a piece (not enough to pay rent in one of the new “affordable” units nearby.)

    There was a major renovation of that facility just a couple of years ago—who paid for THAT?

    We may be getting $30 million dollars’ worth of value out of the aquarium–great, but let’s ask it to manage itself so that it comes out a little in the black each year, so that the next $30 million can be invested in another “jewel” to keep it company. There is opportunity cost in feeding this beast.

    @Casey – all the libraries let you check out a library discount pass that gives you $2 off a ticket. Don’t know if there is something beyond that especially for kids. Both times that I had guests in from out of town, it didn’t even cover the cost of the parking.

    @McGuire,
    Some of us use a pseudonym because of very real retaliation offline. I’d rather suffer digital words than real damage to property, person and reputation. For all the good people we have in Norwalk, there are a handful that make this a necessity.

  38. Dawn

    i am not sure but i think i recieved a flyer last year from my kids school about a summer camp at the aquarium. I wish i could remember the details. I do not remember if there was a cost, but i think there was not.

  39. Watts up Doc

    Hey Mike. $30 million in debt at 4% over 30 years is $51.5 million in cash payments. No doubt the aquarium would cease to be a going concern without this forgiveness of debt and that would hurt the city, but should we really be paying their top officers more than yours on the BOE? I bet if you add up all the freebies they give us it isn’t even a rounding error on what we have given them. Watts is misguided, but he does make a valid point that they should be giving more back. You are a rationale person. Try to see the other side of the argument for a second.

  40. Dave Sigworth

    As publicist for The Maritime Aquarium, I can answer a few things here. To “Don’t Panic,” our 2011 renovation was paid for entirely through generous contributions from individuals and foundations (as was our new research vessel).

    May I also say that a frequent refrain here by commentators is that the Aquarium needs to get its finances in order (they are and always have been, under the review of the city’s Maritime Authority). Yet now we are being asked to give away camp programs (which have costs) for free.

    Our finances are publicly available on our website (in Annual Reports … under “About Us”).

    Do we give back to the community? Some examples: all Norwalk schoolchildren visiting on field trips receive free Aquarium admission. A private grant supports science programs for every Norwalk 4th- and 6th-grader, reaching more than 1,600 students. Sixteen Norwalk schools took advantage of our educational programs last year, many with privately funded subsidies. Our education department partners with Brookside and Jefferson Magnet schools, where every kid has multiple experiences in science. Private grants let us welcome Carver Center kids for free and to present an inspiring weekly after-school program for the city’s high school students.

    This year, we expanded our annual Free Norwalk Day – where city residents receive free admission – from one day to three. (Two more are coming up, on Nov. 1 and Dec. 6. Hope to see you here!)

    The Maritime Aquarium was an incredibly rare and unique investment by a city of Norwalk’s size and location. A 2007 Economic Impact study – more recent than the one Mike Lyons linked to above – showed that the Aquarium pumps $25 million into the city economy, through visitor and employee spending. We’ve been here 26 years. $25 million x 26 years is $650 million.

    Opinions of course are opinions and that’s fine, but I am discouraged when I see postings here of incorrect information or negative speculation. I’m happy to answer questions any time: 852-0700, ext. 2232.

  41. mollyB

    @ Mr. Sigworth

    You failed to mention that the aquarium charges $450.00 per kid to attend the Jr. Biologist Program (ages 10-13). If the aquarium allowed 100 kids to attend for free the retail cost would be $45,000 and a lot less without the profit.

    Another fun fact : out of the 4.5 million dollars collected from Admissions/ Ticket Sales… a staggering 3. 5 million dollars goes direct to Administrative cost. Maybe this could be the problem.

    SOURCE: 2013 Annual Report

  42. Anna Duleep, City Sheriff

    I agree with Joanne’s and Mike’s comments. Having the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk benefits everybody, even those who only visit once a year. Surely its programs help our students develop an interest in marine/earth science! Nobody is disputing the value of a *quality* summer youth program; rather, some question the appropriateness of this demand and the feasibility of carrying it out under these circumstances.

    Further, re whether the makeup of the Board of Trustees should change to reflect Norwalk’s demographics: please remember our Maritime Authority works in tandem with the Board of Trustees. The Authority is made up of Norwalkers appointed by the Mayor PLUS four sitting members of the Common Council. There is even a provision to allow a former member of the Common Council to serve if need be. Any concerns about whether/how the Maritime Aquarium’s programs serve all the people of Norwalk should be addressed by the Maritime Authority. Supporting the Maritime Aquarium generously (within reason) is a wonderful way to demonstrate Norwalk’s commitment to scientific research and education.

  43. Kevin Di Mauro

    I think any lease renewal should depend upon Jennifer Herring be replaced ASAP. I don’t know where she came from, but in my opinion she has no connection with Norwalk’s heritage. She also seems incapable of turning TNMA into the money maker that it could be.

  44. John Hamlin

    The Aquarium is an enormous asset that gives back to the city in enormous ways. Lyons and Romano have it right — it needs and deserves our support. It’s not broken, so don’t let the political hacks try to fix it.

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