GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Ideas to expand Grand Rapids’ entertainment options include an amphitheater, a professional soccer stadium and maybe even an aquarium.

While it’s not on a new rendering for the much-talked-about 31 acres of riverfront property along Market Avenue between Fulton and Wealthy streets, local leaders have been thinking about an aquarium for a while.

“I think there’s … a growing momentum for an aquarium, which is not quite as far along in the development process as the other two,” David Frey, co-chair of development organization Grand Action 2.0, said Wednesday.

That momentum is still very new.

“We’ve been exploring the idea for the last few years and really in the last 12 months or so kind of getting the pulse within the community if this is something that would have some interest,” John Ball Zoo CEO Peter D’Arienzo told News 8 Thursday. “The next step is really doing a very detailed economic study to really understand what exactly is the best aide for the aquarium, the budget, how many gallons, the best location.”

How the project would be funded is another question that needs to be answered.

John Ball Zoo has experience running an aquarium. Penguins, eels and exotic fish have called the Van Andel Living Shores Aquarium home since 1995. But that’s a 40,000 gallon water tank in the middle of the zoo. A new aquarium, one designed to attract visitors not just from Michigan and the Midwest but also from around the country, would be much bigger.

Still, it would benefit from a John Ball Zoo affiliation.
“We’re talking something on the scale of Shedd Aquarium, one of the top aquariums in the United States,” D’Arienzo said. “By falling under the same umbrella, it creates a lot of synergies by reducing payroll expenses, by allowing synergies in membership and programing, education, things like that.”

Don’t expect to line up for tickets anytime soon. D’Arienzo says a project of this scale could take anywhere from five to 10 years to develop.

“I would love to do in in five years and I’d love to start next week, but I think something of this scale requires us to be really thoughtful, look at the data,” he said.

Aquariums generally have a positive economic impact on their cities. According to the National Association of Zoos and Aquariums, those two types of attractions added about $24 billion to the economy in 2019.