The rumblings on how the Sci-Port Board of Directors and particularly its Executive Committee (Dare Johnson, Nancy Alexander, Joe Badt, Linda Biernacki, Robert Manriquez and Robert Stroud) sat by and let the crown jewel of the riverfront take on red ink to the point that the center will close on Labor Day are not going away, and in fact they will probably become louder—and they should. In a desperate move to keep the Sci-Port ship from not totally sinking into the Red River the Sci-port Board contracted with the Planet Aqua Group to manage the center.
Sci-Port will close on Labor Day and its 72 workers will be out of work. Planet Aqua says that substantial renovation is needed and that Sci-Port will reopen, on a smaller scale, on New Year’s eve. Sci-Port is to pay over $113,000 a year to Planet Aqua for its management services; all the other details on the conversion are as clear as the Red River at flood stage.
Planet Aqua is the start-up company that is attempting to open the Shreveport Aquarium, which will be the first aquarium this company has constructed. From the day of the greatly ballyhooed announcement that this group was going to make a tourist mecca out of the Barnwell Center a late August opening was promised—and thereafter repeatedly in cheery emails and messages on its website. Parties were booked and staff hired for the end of August opening. But low and behold, after the tanks were filled with Shreveport water, problems began to surface in making Shreveport water appropriately saline, animal adaptation to the new facility and the like—just the standard nuts and bolts operational realities of an aquarium.
Recently Planet Aqua announced a delay in opening—for at least a month. That means the 30 people who quit jobs to go work for the Aquarium on August 31 get to sit at home, unpaid, for at least a month. Trying to save face the press release cited expansion of the facility, which was not originally on the drawing boards as the reason for the delay. This major hiccup leads to the obvious question—if Planet Aqua can not get its own facility open on time, how is it going to also manage the conversion of Sci-Port and get it open on December 31?
A much more serious but not quite so obvious issue is the nature of the two organizations. Planet Aqua is a private for profit business entity. Sci-Port is a public non-profit corporation. The business principles of operation of a for profit versus a non profit are totally different—its like mixing oil and water. How the business operations of both entities, which are in reality sharing if not competing for the same customer base, will be handled is an open question. The Sci-Port Board has totally failed in their fiduciary obligations for management and how much of these responsibilities, and how well they will be discharged by Planet Aqua, is a story yet to be told. From the appearance of things Planet Aqua has more than enough challenges in getting its on parade under way , much less saving Sci-Port.