Travel Treasures Close to Home: The Greater Cleveland Aquarium

by Tom Reed
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Story filed January 20, 2012

The opening of the Greater Cleveland Aquarium in the Flats brings a new attraction to the downtown area that will be welcomed by visitors and local residents alike. If you live in or near Cleveland, youíve undoubtedly seen extensive newspaper and television coverage of the big event, as befits a major new tourist attraction.

Cleveland has waited a long time for it to become a reality. After the old city aquarium in Gordon Park closed in 1985, grandiose plans were floated for a world-class aquarium on the lakefront to rival Baltimoreís new National Aquarium, which was getting rave reviews. But nothing ever came of them.

Now, a new aquarium is a reality, in what some would consider an unlikely place, the old Powerhouse (now the FirstEnergy Powerhouse) on the West Bank of the Flats. The building originally generated electricity for the cityís streetcar system. Many years later, it became an entertainment center when both banks of the Flats were bustling with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. I was reminded of that when I took a hardhat tour of the aquarium at a Cleveland Press Club luncheon in mid-January. We entered through what used to be the Howl at the Moon Saloon, on the ground floor. Reminders of an even earlier era came when we walked through what was originally a coal tunnel for the powerhouse. Itís now the site of the Weird and Wonderful exhibit.Other features of the original building are preserved.

The most spectacular feature of the aquarium is SeaTube, which allows visitors to walk through a 500,000 gallon tank for a close-up look at marine life, including 15 sharks.

Although a $2 million loan from the City of Cleveland is included in the financing, the rest of the $33 million dollar cost came from private sources, including the Nautica Phase 2 Limited Partnership, an affiliate of Jacobs Entertainment, Inc., and Marinescape NZ Limited, the New Zealand-based developer that has built 23 major aquariums around the world. Interestingly, this is its first in the United States.

Developers are predicting the aquarium will attract up to 500,000 visitors a year. Weíll see. But itís a safe bet that the new facility will become a must-see attraction for Cleveland, and will make people want to go to the Flats again.

The Greater Cleveland Aquarium is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $21.95 for adults, $15.95 for children ages 2-12, free for kids under 2. For more information visit

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