The National Aquarium in Baltimore, the city's most successful and most renowned attraction at the Inner Harbor, is planning a $50 million renovation and will help pay for it by increasing the adult ticket price by about 17 percent.
Aquarium officials said yesterday that they will expand the rain forest attraction, change the dolphin show, renovate classrooms, improve the facility's World Wide Web site and schedule maintenance on aging buildings during the next 10 years.
"It takes money to support all that," said Denise E. London, senior director of marketing for the aquarium. "We have to stay fresh and new."
The Board of Estimates yesterday approved the aquarium's price increase.
On June 1, the price of an adult ticket will increase from $11.95 to $14. The children's ticket price will remain at $7.50, and senior admission will remain at $10.50.
Aquarium director David M. Pittenger said that during the past seven years, the price of an adult ticket has increased 45 cents.
Pittenger said the extra $2.05 in the adult cost will bring in about $1.5 million annually.
"It will depend on the weather and attendance," he said.
But Pittenger said the ticket increase will have more of an impact on out-of-town tourists because local residents are eligible most of the year to get discounts on ticket prices.
Within weeks, the aquarium board will complete a master plan outlining the vision and growth of the aquarium for the next 10 years.
Part of the master plan includes changing the exhibits more often, London said.
An exhibit, which opened in March, features black widows, the Arizona bark scorpion, bullet ants, sea urchins, a death adder, poison dart frogs, blue-spotted stingrays and other poisonous animals. They are billed as the world's most venomous creatures.
The auditorium and the educational classrooms will receive new lighting and seats and are set to open in coming weeks. Also, the rain forest will be changed to include a river that will showcase reptiles such as anacondas and caimans.
Some popular attractions will be relocated in the building, London said, including the exhibits that allow visitors to touch starfish and other creatures.
City tourism officials said the aquarium is the Inner Harbor attraction most likely to hold its audience while raising admission prices.
"I would have to defer to them in terms that raising the rates a few bucks is not going to have a negative impact," said Carroll Armstrong, executive director of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.
The aquarium has been the jewel of the harbor since it opened 17 years ago.
Distinguished by its signature triangular, tropical greenhouse, the facility has served as an anchor for more recent attractions at the harbor. It continues to win praise from trade and travel publications as a premier city attraction.
The aquarium has seen record attendance in the past two years and is expected to break another record this year. In 1996, 1.62 million people visited the attraction. In 1997, it drew 1.65 million visitors.
Ticket sales account for about 70 percent of the annual budget, which is about $22 million. The remainder comes from state and city funds, fund raising, corporate memberships and retail sales from stores inside the aquarium, London said.
Pub Date: 5/28/98