Opening of Oklahoma Aquarium pushed back until winter

Monday, August 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The $15 million Oklahoma Aquarium scheduled to open Labor Day now won't open until this winter because key exhibit components arrived later than expected, aquarium officials said Monday.

A huge acrylic window for the 400,000-gallon shark tank arrived just three weeks ago, delaying construction and pushing the opening back to December or January, said Susan Bramsch, the aquarium's chief operating officer.

``We really thought it would be here in March,'' Bramsch said in an interview. ``That's four months right there, and that's about what we're behind.''

Until arrival of the dome, which covers an area where visitors can stand below the shark tank, construction crews couldn't complete the aquarium's roof, Bramsch said.

An open roof kept workers from building exhibits near the shark tank, but work is on schedule for the other parts of the aquarium, which will sprawl three football fields along the Arkansas River in Jenks, she said.

The aquarium, with exhibits totaling 1 million gallons of water, is still waiting on two 8-feet-by-8-feet acrylic windows for the kelp forest tank, Bramsch said.

``These things are all on a tight schedule,'' she said. ``We cannot start on life support for that tank until those windows are in.''

The shark tank, with two tunnels underneath leading visitors to the viewing dome, will feature 400-pound bull sharks and smaller lemon sharks.

``A lot of people have aquariums in their living rooms,'' she said. ``This is much more like having a living room in your aquarium.''

More than 150 species of fish native to Oklahoma will be on display as well, adding to the aquarium that organizers expect to attract half-a-million visitors a year.

Adjacent to the aquarium, which organizers say will generate $18 million a year for the local economy, is land for restaurants and hotels and a fishing tackle museum.

The aquarium is being built with a mix of public and private funds: about $5 million from sponsors, of which about 80 percent is secured; $8 million in bonds backed by the city of Jenks; and $1.2 million from the state.

The slumping stock market and lethargic economic resurgence have not altered the aquarium's visitor and impact projections nor stalled fund-raising, Bramsch said.

``We might refocus our fund-raising a bit, but I wouldn't say it's slowed,'' she said.