As part of a pattern of supporting cultural institutions and attractions in Baltimore City, Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz announced this week that the county will provide $700,000 for programs and capital projects of the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
Speaking at a party for the aquarium’s 35th anniversary, Kamenetz said the county will provide $200,000 this year as a grant to support aquarium programs and has pledged to provide another $500,000 over the next five years to support capital projects at the aquarium.
Kamenetz told the audience that he benefited from visiting the National Aquarium when he was younger. “I want children in Baltimore County today to be able to visit the aquarium, too.”
The monetary support for the aquarium is the latest of several actions that Baltimore County, under Kamenetz, has taken to support Baltimore City.
In December, Kamenetz said the county wouldn’t seek reimbursement for the $257,000 it spent to send police officers and others to assist Baltimore during a period of civil unrest in April and May of 2015. “The city is our neighbor, and when a friend is down, you lend them a helping hand,” he said, according to The Baltimore Sun.
The previous month, during a media event at the Hippodrome, Kamenetz called for Baltimore County residents to support arts and cultural attractions in Baltimore City.
“Those of us who live in Baltimore County know how important the city is to the entire region,” he said. “We benefit from the exceptional arts and cultural attractions just down the road from county residents. Let’s stand together in support of our neighbors.”
Some people speculate that Kamenetz has been supportive of city programs because he is preparing to run for governor and wants city residents to vote for him, but his support for the city has been longstanding. Although he was raised in Baltimore County and lives there now, he went to college and law school in the city and he has relatives who live in the city.
According to the aquarium representatives, there are strong connections between the institution and Baltimore County.
In all, 2,630 Baltimore County families are aquarium members (more than any other county); 29 Baltimore County businesses are corporate partners (including Whiting-Turner, Heritage Properties, Classic Catering and Lockheed), and 130 aquarium employees and 220 volunteers live in Baltimore County.
The Baltimore County funds for the aquarium are coming in the form of a $200,000 operating grant for fiscal 2017 from the county’s Arts & Science Commission and capital grants of $100,000 a year for five years, starting in fiscal 2016. The Arts & Science Commission traditionally funds institutions in Baltimore City, but the $200,000 grant represents an increase over the amount it has allocated for the aquarium in previous years.
The aquarium has three large capital projects for which it is raising money. They are: a new waterfront campus plan for the area in and around Piers 3 and 4 in downtown Baltimore; an animal care and rescue center in Jonestown for “off-exhibit” animals, and North America’s first outdoor, natural water sanctuary for “retired” aquarium dolphins, at a site still to be determined.
The city allocated $400,000 for capital improvements to the aquarium in fiscal 2017 alone, after also allocating $400,000 in fiscal 2016. It has tentatively allocated $125,000 in fiscal 2018 and $125,000 in fiscal 2019.
During the aquarium anniversary party, CEO John Racanelli reflected on the impact the institution has had since it opened on August 8, 1981.
In the past 35 years, he said, it:
Has attracted more than 51 million visitors.
Grown from “a few thousand” animals representing fewer than 600 species to nearly 20,000 animals representing 750 species.
Has offered annual programs for 150,000 kids as part of a school program or field trip.
Removed more than 1.1 million pieces of debris from local ecosystems.
Restored 223 acres around the Chesapeake Bay.
Planted 2 million native trees and plants.
“In 1981, when legendary Mayor Schaefer took a splash in the seal pool in the shot heard round the world — joined incidentally by [chairman] Frank Gunther, who had to keep the seals at bay –even they could not have imagined the impact this organization would have and the millions of people it would touch,” Racanelli said.
The aquarium’s potential was evident in the first year of operation when its attendance exceeded all expectations, Racanelli added. “Initial estimates hoped that we would welcome 650,000 visitors during that first year,” he said. “It was more like 1.5 million, and as [Senior Vice President] Kathy Sher reminds me, those are only the ones we were able to count.”
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