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Adventure Aquarium logo
|Date opened||February 29, 1992
(May 25, 2005 opened as Adventure Aquarium)
|Location||Camden, New Jersey,
|Floor space||200,000 sq ft (19,000 m2) (public areas)|
|Volume of largest tank||760,000 US gal (2,900,000 L)|
|Total volume of tanks||2 million US gallons (7,600,000 L)|
|Public transit access||
The Adventure Aquarium, formerly the New Jersey State Aquarium, is a for-profit educational entertainment attraction operated in Camden, New Jersey on the Delaware River Camden Waterfront by the Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation. Originally opened in 1992, it re-opened in its current form on May 25, 2005 featuring about 8,000 animals living in varied forms of semi-aquatic, freshwater, and marine habitats. The facility has a total tank volume of over 2 million US gallons (7,600,000 L), and public floor space of 200,000 square feet (19,000 m2).
The aquarium was originally known as the New Jersey State Aquarium at Camden, and was operated by the non-profit New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences, an organization chartered to run the Aquarium and further its mission of "education" and conservation.
The Academy was created in 1989, and oversaw the design and construction of the original attraction jointly with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority--the government-run group that allocates public funding for sports and entertainment attractions, statewide. Inspired by the success that other cities, particularly Baltimore, had experienced with their own marine life centers, the New Jersey Legislature approved the bill that included the Aquarium's construction order in the late 1980s, and Governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean signed it into law.
The original building was designed by the architectural firm The Hillier Group, and became a gleaming centerpiece for a dull and virtually abandoned area. Constructed primarily of cast concrete, accented by large glass and aluminum facades and topped by a large, white fabric dome, the Aquarium was completed by early 1992, with a total cost of about $52 million. It opened on February 29, 1992.
In its first year of operation, the Aquarium hosted 1.6 million visitors. But trouble arose almost immediately when visitor and critics' reviews turned decidedly negative and scores began to express great disappointment in their grand new museum.
The building's concrete nature was glaringly apparent both inside and out, as bare, grey concrete walls defined almost every public space. The cavernous rotunda, capped by the classic white dome, featured a deafening echo and was poorly lit. None of the exhibits were themed, and many of the tanks seemed to be lined up in neat, square rows. Graphics were almost non-existent, and the building itself tended to feel small. But the death knell came by way of the animals themselves -- as a New Jersey-based operation, the original Aquarium displayed only native fishes, normally brown and grey in color, and just about nothing else. By the next fiscal year (1993), attendance had plummeted to a mere 400,000. Alarmed, the Aquarium's managers began a short period of intense renovation, just a year after opening day. This was featured on Michael Moore's television series TV Nation in 1995.
The Aquarium never closed during this reconstruction phase, but many exhibits were periodically offline or inaccessible, making the small building even smaller. But the result was generally worth the inconvenience: in 1994, Ocean Base Atlantic finally debuted to the public. The new attraction, designed by award winning experience designer Bob Rogers (designer) and the design team BRC Imagination Arts, Made great use of the building's massive 760,000-US-gallon (2,900 m3) Open Ocean Tank (the third largest on the continent), this new, themed exhibit introduced fish, birds, sharks, and sea turtles from all across the Atlantic Ocean, and not just from the coast of New Jersey. The new attraction opened to critical acclaim by the public and was also the Themed Entertainment Association's 1996 recipient of the "Award for Outstanding Achievement."
The exhibit featured the adventures of a fictitious marine biologist, Dr. Marina del Mar, whose Ocean Base Atlantic laboratory, by the storyline, was responsible for all of the animals, displays, and information presented in the building. The Rotunda was upgraded with the addition of a large, spinning mobile in the domed ceiling, made from more than a thousand polished aluminum fish shapes. A one-man submersible hung from the center, its lights shining on the Command Center -- a glorified information desk made to look like the bridge of an underwater lab. Even staff members complimented the new experience; the black and purple Aquarium uniform, patterned on the then-hit TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation, was worn by anyone who worked in public view. These changes and modifications helped to improve the organization's image, boost attendance, and assist the New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences' effort to stabilize the attraction for long-term operations.
Over the years, the New Jersey State Aquarium once again fell into a period of stagnation, with yearly attendance holding at about 600,000. In 1999, the Camden City Garden Club announced plans to open a children's horticultural garden immediately behind the Aquarium, on 4 acres (16,000 m2) of land between the waterfront building and the street. Construction moved quickly, both on the Garden itself and a new facade, box office, and gift shop for the aging Aquarium. The combined attraction opened in 2000, but did not greatly influence yearly attendance. Work began briefly on a ride attraction in the old Gift Shop, but was halted halfway through due to lack of funds. Now about thirteen years old, the Aquarium started to see a gradual decline in admissions.
Efforts were initiated in 1999 to expand the existing Aquarium physically. As it became clear that the Academy lacked the financial ability to undertake such a project, the State of New Jersey (who owns the buildings and the land) began to look for potential investors, developers, and operators for the aquarium.
In 2003, Columbus, Ohio-based Steiner + Associates began negotiations on a lease agreement for the existing Aquarium and a development contract for the lands that surround it. The principal design and construction of a large addition on the north side of the building began in the winter of 2004. The Academy continued to operate the facility until September 7, 2004, when the doors were closed to allow a complete renovation of the existing structure.
As Steiner Entertainment took control of most operational aspects of the building (Guest Services, Marketing, Finance, Graphic Design, and Husbandry), the Academy remained to operate the Education and Research/Conservation departments. ARAMARK took over food services, and Securitas took over security of the facility.
In November 2007, officials at Adventure Aquarium announced that Steiner + Associates had agreed to sell its controlling interest in both Adventure and Newport Aquariums to Atlanta-based Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation.
The existing building became known as the South Building, and would continue to feature native Atlantic specimens in multiple smaller tanks and the giant Ocean Tank on the first floor (formerly Ocean Base Atlantic), as well as more "weird" and unusual animals on the second floor (formerly, the "Conservation Outreach and Observation Lab").
Added to this building beyond the heavy renovation would be a new gateway to the Caribbean, Irazu River Falls. This 30-foot-tall (9.1 m) tropical waterfall tank rests in the hollow of a large, 50-foot-tall (15 m) coral reef tank designed into the original building, but never completed. Surrounded by lush green foliage and backed by a jagged, mossy rockface.
Also added to this building is the Adventure Theatre, in actuality the existing auditorium refitted to show exciting 4D-ride films. This 154-seat theatre, currently presented by PSE&G, includes a traditional 3D-film, shown with environmental effects (water spray, wind gusts, and seat motion) that all combine to bring riders closer to the experience than ever before. When it opened in July 2005, the Adventure Theatre became the first built-in 4D-capable auditorium featured in an American aquarium. SimEx-Iwerks currently provides the technology and the ride films displayed daily.
Many of the animals in the South Building were simply moved to better facilitate traffic flow and the organization of species. Some of the new animals in the building include the extremely rare and dangerously threatened shark ray, Cuvier's dwarf caiman, an electric eel, and stingrays. 2007's "Don't Just Look - Touch" campaign brought the addition of five new touch exhibits to this building, including a total reconstruction of the original Touch-A-Shark and Meet-A-Creature tanks, and the construction of Touch-A-Ray, Touch-A-Jelly, Touch-A-Lobster, and Touch-A-Shrimp tanks in the new Interactive Inlet space on the second floor. To date, Adventure Aquarium is one of a select few in the country that allow guests to touch moon jellies, northern lobsters, or pink shrimp, and is the only one that allows guests to touch all three.
The expansion building added to the northern face of the old Aquarium became known as the "North Building". This is a completely new structure, built to accommodate three new exhibits, a new food service area, main entry atrium, gift shop, and casual dining restaurant. The Adventure Aquarium made history again in this building through the addition of the, A new exhibition, "West African River Experience", features Nile hippopotami. The two female animals, named Button and Jenny, were sent by The Walt Disney Company from their Animal Kingdom theme park in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, at a relatively young age: eight and five, respectively. In captivity, the animals may live to reach at least 55 years of age.
Also added in the North Building include the "Jules Verne Gallery", stocked with Japanese spider crabs, sea dragons, jellies, and a Giant Pacific octopus, and the Shark Realm, featuring sand tiger, sandbar, and nurse sharks, all viewable from multiple floor-to-ceiling windows and a 40-foot (12 m) shark tunnel, suspended directly through the center of the 550,000-US-gallon (2,100 m3) tank. Visitors are also offered, by appointment only, the opportunity to swim with the sharks in the tank itself -- the Swim with the Sharks program allows guests to snorkel along the outer perimeter of the tank inside a concrete channel before ending the swim by feeding the animals manually in the "Ray Tray".
Wind turbines were installed on the roof of the rectangular North Building in the spring of 2007.
October 2007 brought another new addition to the Aquarium - CURRENTS: The Ballroom at Adventure Aquarium. Filling nearly 9,000 square feet (840 m2) of space in the Aquarium's North Building (which was originally intended for lease to a private restaurant brand), CURRENTS is built with special events in mind, appealing to those who may have found the Aquarium's exhibit design too cumbersome to host their various functions. Fitted with state-of-the-art audio-visual technology, two air walls that can split the room into three smaller spaces, and three movie-screen sized windows into the Shark Realm exhibit, CURRENTS has quickly become a popular alternative to established banquet facilities throughout the region. All functions in the room are catered by ARAMARK, whose culinary team created a series of menus exclusively for ballroom events. The facility has a capacity of 550 for seated meals, and more than 1200 for cocktail receptions. In an attempt to create a unified brand, Steiner Entertainment commissioned a ballroom for its Newport Aquarium, also named CURRENTS, which opened there in July 2007.