Nonprofit to take the helm at Seattle Aquarium
The Seattle Aquarium on Alaskan Way is among the last of the country's major aquariums to be managed by a city parks department. But that's going to change come July 1, when its operations will fall to a nonprofit.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Seattle Aquarium on Alaskan Way is among the last of the country's major aquariums to be managed by a city parks department.
But that's going to change come July 1, when its operations will fall to a nonprofit.
The Seattle Aquarium Society, under an agreement passed by the City Council in December, will oversee everything from admissions to classes to new exhibits and feeding the animals. The city and the society have had a partnership for years, but the shift will streamline the organization, parks officials said.
Most important: Visitors won't notice a thing, said Carol Everson, finance director of the parks department. The exhibits will run exactly as they have been, she said.
But in a time of citywide belt-tightening — midyear parks-department cuts are expected to be announced next week — the transfer relieves the city of yet another responsibility.
The 75 full-time parks employees who work at the aquarium have five years to transition to the nonprofit. About a third are expected to do so immediately, said Bob Davidson, who will become CEO of the Seattle Aquarium Society on July 1.
The transfer has been years in the works, and follows in the path of the Woodland Park Zoo, Pike Place Market and other attractions like the Seattle Art Museum, in which city officials decided it was best to let someone else take the management reins.
Contracting out management to run facilities that eat up too much city time and resources "is an example of cities realizing what it is that they do best," Davidson said.
Plus, nonprofit status helps with fundraising, Davidson said.
"People just aren't as willing to give their private money to the government," he said.
The aquarium, under the parks department, basically supported itself, Everson said. It collected enough revenue to pay for its $10.7 million in operating costs, which covers salaries, benefits, food for the animals and utilities, among other things.
Because of that, the transfer won't necessarily equate to a drastic savings for the city, Everson said. But the impact will be felt in other ways.
For instance, she said, the parks' information-technology employees will no longer provide desktop support or replace broken computers at the aquarium. And parks upper management will have more time to concentrate on other issues, which saves on-the-clock hours, she added.
The city will still maintain ownership of the building's exterior and the piers on which it rests, according to the contract.
And that's an important point, Davidson said.
"It's a public asset," he said. "The question is how can [it] best be managed?"
Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or email@example.com
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