Once again, the Shreveport Aquarium is in the news—in a bad way.
Another subcontractor of Wieland-Davco, the general contractor for the Planet Aqua Group which operates the aquarium, has filed a lien on the aquarium construction.
Now eight companies have filed liens for unpaid bills totaling $324 grand. How many more liens will be filed is an open question.
The city of Shreveport and the Planet Aqua Group announced in September of 2016 that the aquarium would be constructed in the city-owned Barnwell Center.
Construction did not start until January of last year. The city provided funds from a 2011 bond fund to pay for basic improvements to the Barnwell, including HVAC updates.
The aquarium had an announced opening date of Labor Day, with a promised job hire of thirty-two full time and part time employees.
The opening date was pushed back to November. Planet Aqua gave different reasons for the delay.
While the city was waiting for the much heralded addition to the river front, Sci-Port closed. Seventy-two people lost their jobs. Many hoped to immediately segue down the street to the aquarium.
Those hoping to go from one venue to the next, without missing any work, were in effect left on the street for over two months waiting for the aquarium to open. The same was the fate of others who had been hired for Labor Day aquarium opening, many of whom had quit other jobs.
The restaurant opened by Planet Aqua in the Barnwell, SALT, has been a failure. Although the patio area has a great view of the river, the food has been inconsistent and over priced.
The manager left for greener pastures after a very short tenure. Recently the entire bar and wait staff were summarily fired and replaced by lower paid workers.
Planet Aquarium reported in the first month opened (November) visitor attendance of almost 28,000. Many question this number.
This number equates to over 900 visitors for each of thirty days in the month or well over 100 per hour for each of the thirty days.
The entry cost to the aquarium is $8 for children and $12 for adults. Assuming only 27,600 children (and no adults) attended in November the sales reviews would have exceeded $220 grand.
Planet Aqua is a private company, not subject to the Public Records Act. Thus, meaningful data concerning the fiscal status of the aquarium can not be discovered by request.
How much longer the aquarium creditors will allow this facility to be open, collecting entrance fees but not paying its construction bills is unknown. Those that have filed liens do have a good vehicle to find out what is really happening by forcing Planet Aqua into an involuntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
In the alternative any of the aquarium’s creditors could file litigation to collect unpaid moneys and ask the court to impound revenue to pay their claim.
How long the aquarium can continue to operate by not paying creditors and not answering hard questions to the public is probably only a matter of time. How much monthly revenue has been generated since its opening, how these moneys have been expended, and the total amount of unpaid bills are serious issues that Planet Aqua will not address.
Much like the closing of Sci-Port, the aquarium is fast becoming a major disappointment, and a civic black eye. How much longer the city will endure these embarrassments is an open question.
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