Fresno Aquarium – The Journey

Building the Fresno Aquarium is a journey.

I’d like to share with you our history to date…

We have been very fortunate to have been able to raise substantial funds from our generous supporters over the years to be able to pay for each step required for the building of the Fresno Aquarium. When we began in 2000, we started with one generous donation of $5,000, which enabled us to incorporate as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization and also served as the very first gift toward our first Capital Campaign, the Campaign for Special Gifts, which raised well over its $750,000 goal by 2005.

Funds from this campaign also paid for all of the environmental studies, planning, preliminary designs required by the County of Fresno and led to the Fresno County Planning Commission’s unanimous approval of the Fresno Aquarium project in November of 2005. In 2006, we closed escrow on our donated 10-acre parcel, which our organization now owns free-and-clear (no mortgage). A while ago, I wrote about why our site was the perfect location for our future Aquarium campus.

As a result of this progress, in 2008 and 2009, Aquarius Aquarium Institute received a donation of aquarium exhibits and equipment from the the California Academy of Science’s Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco. These 5-year-old, gently-used tanks – one is 21 feet in diameter – will form the basis of the Fresno Aquarium’s opening exhibits.

Although the Steinhart Aquarium donated these exhibits, we had to dip into our savings in 2008/2009 in order to transport them to Fresno, which resulted in a small ($7,869) loss in revenues vs. expenses on our bottom line in 2009 – our first “loss” in our 10-year history.

However, for this expense, our organization gained well over $1 million in assets in terms of value of the Steinhart Aquarium donation. Our board felt this was a reasonable return on our investment. All of this information is available for public review on our annual Form 990s filed with the IRS, linked from our website through – Form 990 for 2009.

We continue to educate our community about our Fresno Aquarium project by making television appearances, sending out press releases as well as school visits often several times a week, public outreach at such events as our Earth Day Run for the Reef and Water Planet Adventure Day at Fresno’s River Park shopping center and our exhibit at The Big Fresno Fair sponsored by Aqua Sports dive shop.

A big part of our outreach message is letting the public know that the Fresno Aquarium will not use huge amounts of water or take water from the San Joaquin River, which our property overlooks. All of the Fresno Aquarium’s exhibits will be closed, recirculating systems. This means that the water will be filtered and re-used over and over again. We actually expect that more water will be needed for public uses – restrooms, kitchen sinks, etc. – than will be needed for the exhibits!

In 2009, our Local Agency Formation Commission unanimously voted to permit the City of Fresno to add the Fresno Aquarium property to to its adopted Sphere of Influence (SOI). This action, unanimously supported by the Fresno City Council, allows the Aquarium to connect to City water and sewer systems in the future. The substantial costs for this SOI revision (only the second such revision for Fresno in this new century) were covered by funds still remaining from the Campaign for Special Gifts and by a portion of our Charter Membership funds.

The Fresno Aquarium project continues to be a private nonprofit grassroots effort and not financially supported by the City or County of Fresno or by a dedicated tax or by a sale of bonds. While this is definitely a slower way to go, our board of directors feels very strongly that growing in phases as donations, sponsorships and grants come in is the more financially sustainable path to take.

Our Charter Members keep the organization going, our outreach programs keep the community and our schools engaged and our volunteers are the smiling faces that help us get accurate facts about our projects out to the public.

We invite you to comment on this post or participate in any way possible to keep Aquarius Aquarium Institute and its Fresno Aquarium project moving forward.

Send us an e-mail or call us at (559) 490-FISH (3474) right away!