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CEO plans to spread word on aquarium

In addition to more marketing, the recently appointed leader also seeks facility improvements.

Published September 3, 2006

CLEARWATER - The Clearwater Marine Aquarium started out in 1972 as little more than a mounted fish exhibit at the Clearwater marina.

Since then, it has grown into a nonprofit rescue, rehabilitation and education facility that works with dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals.

Now the aquarium's recently appointed chief executive officer, David Yates, is looking at ways to reach more people.

"Our objective is to make sure we properly advertise who and what we are to the public, and to raise awareness of what we do," said Yates, 46, who joined the aquarium in March.

The aquarium already advertises through direct mail and newspapers. It is considering radio, television and billboards.

"We're not done finding exactly the right mix yet," Yates said.

He is also interested in reconditioning the exhibits and bringing in new technology, including a "Yellow Brick Road" that could have computer kiosks offering exhibit information every 20 feet.

In addition to the programs that the aquarium offers, Yates said, more are planned, such as a group designed especially for seniors, a Scout merit badge program and a year-round Saturday kids camp.

"We try to make things educational and fun and are looking at special areas of interest," Yates said.

Yates came to the aquarium from a job as president of Ironman Properties, the company that owns and operates the Ironman Triathlon competition and brands. His business experience, especially in management and marketing, should help enhance the aquarium's visibility around the Tampa Bay area, said Nathan Hightower, president of the aquarium's board of directors.

Yates, a 1985 graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, began his career as a certified public accountant with Arthur Young & Co. Two years later, he began working with a group of related companies in Tarpon Springs. From that came his work with Ironman Properties.

While he was there, the company developed an international brand-building campaign as the Ironman name became one of the best-selling sports brands worldwide.

At the aquarium, Yates will oversee an operation that had about $1.57-million in revenue in its 2003-04 fiscal year, according to an IRS report. Expenses that year totaled about $1.63-million.

Aquarium officials did not provide current detailed budget figures, but the facility budgets about $100,000 a month for expenses, said Dana Zucker, the aquarium's chief operating officer.

"That includes everything from payroll to food for the animals," she said.

The money comes from a variety of sources: paid admission, donations, and federal, state and commercial grants, as well as a contract with Pinellas County to oversee turtle-nesting sites.

"We're just now in the process of writing grants for the upcoming year," Zucker said. "We apply and receive grants from a wide range of organizations ... from the Kiwanis Club to Home Depot."

Yates wants to foster relationships with local businesses further, perhaps through cross-marketing agreements.

"We intend to make this a cutting-edge organization, creating an attractive platform for Tampa Bay-based businesses," he said.

The aquarium's work, Yates said, "is highly regarded and has great affinity with consumers. We intend to build on this."

[Last modified September 3, 2006, 06:53:02]

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