(Oct. 1, 2005) -- The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, which opened amid City Hall assurances it would likely pay its bond debt without tapping taxpayer resources, has quietly changed its name to delete "Long Beach" from name.
The action came without any serious discussion by the City Council whose constituents now pay millions of dollars annually to repay Aquarium bondholders because the facility has failed to perform as forecast.
At its 1998 opening, the attraction was proudly called the "Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific." However the privately-run Aquarium Foundation subsequently deleted "Long Beach" from the city-owned facility's name at some point prior to the Council's 2001 refinancing of Aquarium bonds. The bond refinancing was caused by the Aquarium's failure to generate visitors and revenue sufficient to pay its bondholders as forecast.
The city-owned facility, now expected to tap roughly $5 million in city funds to pay its debt, now calls itself simply the "Aquarium of the Pacific." Removal of LB's name from the major attraction was not seriously discussed by the LB City Council.
Elsewhere, major firms reportedly pay significant sums to ensure their names are part of attractions (Edison Field, the Staples Center), but the Aquarium's manager of media relations, Marilyn Padilla, emailed: "The decision [to remove Long Beach's name] was based on market research that stressed the new name would be more effective in attracting regional audiences to Long Beach."
Ms. Padilla added, "In addition, the Aquarium of the Pacific focuses on the entire Pacific Ocean, not just local waters; therefore, the name would better explain the institution. Since it would not be part of the name, it was decided that 'Long Beach,' the Aquarium's location, would appear in all materials as well."
The Aquarium website relegates "Long Beach" mainly to geographic references. Its home page refers to the "Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California." Its visitor information page says in part, "The Aquarium is anchor to the The Pike at Rainbow Harbor, the largest waterfront development in California history. Visitors to the Aquarium can take advantage of the surrounding Long Beach area. Located only minutes from trendy Pine Avenue in Downtown Long Beach, the Long Beach Convention Center, the Queen Mary, Belmont Shore (Long Beach's charming beach community), and hotels, tourists will find the Aquarium convenient to anywhere in Long Beach they wish to visit."
Details of Aquarium board discussions and votes, if any, on removing Long Beach from the Aquarium's name were not immediately available. Aquarium management has previously declined LBReport.com's request to examine other Aquarium board minutes, and the Aquarium board has not made its meetings public. Thus, it is unclear how then-Aquarium boardmembers may have voted on the matter, if it came to the board.
A list of boardmembers provided by the Aquarium, indicates then-SCE president, now-Mayoral candidate Bob Foster joined the Aquarium board in February 1998. 3d district Council candidate Gary DeLong joined the board after the name change in April 2002.
James C. Hankla, who was City Manager in 1995 when Council backed the original Aquarium bonds with public money, has a Board start date indicated as 1999, by which time he'd retired as City Manager. Mr. Hankla went on to serve as Alameda Corridor CEO, successfully completing that project before being appointed to LB's Harbor Commission by Mayor Beverly O'Neill with Council consent. LBReport.com has posted extended audio coverage of the Council's Aquarium-related August 1, 1995 proceedings. To access it, click here.
When the Aquarium bonds were refinanced in April 2001, some claimed the "Pike @ Rainbow Harbor" would provide "critical mass" so the Aquarium could perform as intended, but Aquarium attendance and revenue still lag even with the "Pike."
On Sept. 20, 2005, the Council voted 9-0 to let Aquarium management divert revenue raised from private fundraising -- which had been required first to repay bondholders -- to be used instead to expand the Aquarium. As a result of the Council action, City Hall will now receive an annual Aquarium payment less than half the Aquarium's annual bond debt (and split profit, if any, from parking and other items).
The Council's Sept. 20 vote effectively ensured that roughly $5 million per year will now be taken to pay Aquarium bondholders from LB's Tidelands fund...which is used to pay for beach and shoreline area maintenance and improvement.