Sunday, May 23, 1999

Opening-week aquarium attendance meets expectations

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — One week after opening, officials at the Oceanic Adventures Newport Aquarium say they are pleased with the crowds that have visited, but they will not say exactly how many have passed through the turnstiles.

        The only numbers released are for the opening weekend, when they greeted more than 10,000 total on Saturday and Sunday.

        “We're at or above our expectations (for first-week attendance),” aquarium public relations director Lisa Popyk said Friday, not specifying what those expectations were.

        Aquarium general manager John Tighe said Friday proved to be a big day, with 1,200 people passing through the turnstile in one hour, the heaviest one-hour crowd so far.

        “We can actually accommodate up to 1,500 an hour comfortably, but 1,200 in one hour is a very good number,” he said. “Traditionally, Fridays are among the best days for amusement attractions nationwide.”

        If last weekend's attendance figures held up during the week as an average, the aquarium would have entertained about 25,000 people through Friday. At that rate, the one-year figure would be 1.3 million, which is in line with first-year projections made several months ago.

        While not putting forth any figures, Mr. Tighe said he expected crowds to increase through the summer when schools are out and families are traveling.

        Cincinnati attorney Tom Heekin Jr., one of the partners who developed and owns the aquarium, said he and the partners are well-satisfied with the attendance in the first week and are pleased with the response from visitors.

        “I've particularly noticed the reactions of the children when they are in the shark tunnel,” he said. “They real ly get excited when the sharks swim close.”

        Mr. Tighe said membership sales have been brisk, exceeding 20,000.

        “We've had some long lines in the lobby, and part of that is due to the people who are still coming in to get annual memberships,” he said. For weekends, he is setting up additional cash registers on the plaza outside the lobby to handle cash-only ticket sales.

        Ms. Popyk said their fig ures show that almost 50 percent of the people who have come in to buy tickets have bought annual memberships.

        Two more large sharks were introduced to the shark exhibit at the beginning of the week, and Mr. Tighe said fish will continue to be added to the various displays for the next six months or more.

        The aquarium is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily through Labor Day. After that, hours will be 10 a.m.-6 p.m.


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