Sagging stock prices and slower tourism have the attraction in financial straits. It is asking Tampa for a fiscal bailout.
By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2002
TAMPA -- Terrorism's ripples have hit the Florida Aquarium.
Unexpected expenses and a decline in ticket sales and donations have officials at the Tampa attraction looking for help. Today, they plan to ask the Tampa City Council for a $300,000 advance on a $2-million gift that the John A. and Elizabeth F. Taylor Foundation had promised for 2006.
"We're asking for money that is slated for us," aquarium spokeswoman Sue Ellen Richardson said Monday.
Six years ago, the Taylor Foundation, the aquarium's biggest private supporter, promised to give the city $2-million in 2006 if the aquarium was not able to contribute to paying off its bond debt. In addition, the foundation pledged an additional $50,000 a year to help with the aquarium's operating expenses, Richardson said.
Now the Taylor Foundation has been hit by the fall in financial markets, and is looking to liquidate, Richardson said. John Taylor, a banker who died in 1986, started the foundation with his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Sandra Koupe. Mrs. Taylor resides in Clearwater.
The foundation, based in Palm Beach, has asked the city if it can pay the $2-million now and be forgiven the $50,000 a year pledge, which amounts to $200,000 by 2006. The aquarium wants $300,000 of the $2-million this year, with the remaining $1.7-million going into a trust account for future use.
Richardson said the reasons for the aquarium's shortfall are "all due to 9/11":
-- An unexpected rise in property insurance. The aquarium, located near the waterfront, is in an area considered a high risk for terrorism. Its insurance premium went up $130,000.
-- A drop in tourism and the generally uncertain economy. The operations budget is running $70,000 under expectations.
-- An unexpected search for a chief executive. Thomas Stork was hired to replace Jeff Swanagan in April after a search that cost $100,000.
-- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.