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The Bay Institute Acquires Aquarium of the Bay, Completing Dramatic Turnaround

June 11, 2009

The Bay Institute’s Acquisition Transforms Financially Successful Aquarium of the Bay Into a Nonprofit Center for Science, Education and Conservation for San Francisco Bay

SAN FRANCISCO, June 11 /PRNewswire/ — The Bay Institute today announced the successful culmination of its four-year effort to acquire Aquarium of the Bay, the first step towards transforming the financially successful Aquarium into a self-supporting, nonprofit center for education, science and conservation of the San Francisco Bay and its watershed. The acquisition continues the 13-year turnaround that has taken the Aquarium from its early years as a failing tourist attraction to its current status as a successful marine nature and education center dedicated to inspiring conservation of the San Francisco Bay and surrounding waters.

As part of its acquisition strategy, The Bay Institute formed The Bay Institute Aquarium Foundation, a 501(3)(c) nonprofit, to purchase the Aquarium from Darius Anderson and Kenwood Bay Aquarium, LLC. The Aquarium will be owned by The Bay Institute Aquarium Foundation, but continue to operate under the name Aquarium of the Bay.

“This acquisition creates a new model of social entrepreneurship that partners a leading science-based nonprofit with a successful, public aquarium,” stated Christina Swanson, Executive Director of The Bay Institute. “As a result of the acquisition, The Bay Institute’s work to protect the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas will reach a larger audience, while Aquarium of the Bay will be able offer broader school programs, undertake more aggressive research and conservation projects, and become a crossroad for collaboration among the scientific, educational, interpretive and conservation communities.”

“Today’s acquisition was the final step in a very long, but fulfilling, journey to nonprofit status,” stated John Frawley, who was Aquarium of the Bay’s CEO during the turn-around and will serve as Executive Director of The Bay Institute Aquarium Foundation. “It was only through the hard work of the aquarium’s staff and through partnerships with the Bay Area’s leading environmental groups that we were able to turn Aquarium of the Bay into a fully accredited marine nature center focusing on the Bay’s rich and diverse marine life and ecosystems.”

Originally opened as Underwater World in 1996, the Aquarium declared bankruptcy in 1999, was acquired by BNP Paribas in 2000, and then underwent a massive renovation and repositioning led by Frawley in 2001. Over the next three years, the Aquarium was accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and reached profitability. In 2005, Frawley approached The Bay Institute to acquire the Aquarium and turn it into a nonprofit center for education, science and conservation.

When The Bay Institute was unable to complete a capital campaign in time to purchase Aquarium of the Bay in May 2006, Darius Anderson stepped in and acquired it with the intent of providing additional time for The Bay Institute to raise the necessary funds. Under Anderson’s ownership, Aquarium of the Bay achieved certification as a Green Business, began a landmark sevengill shark research project, provided free classes and tours to a record 15,000 K-12 students, and became San Francisco’s third largest gated attraction.

“As a fourth-generation San Franciscan, I wanted to ensure that the city had a waterfront aquarium where people would both have fun and leave with a sense of purpose to protect the San Francisco Bay,” Anderson commented. “I believe that restoring the health of the Bay is a critical environmental prerogative, and feel privileged to have been part of the aquarium’s evolution to a nonprofit marine nature center that inspires people to conserve one of the most ecologically rich places on earth.”

The Bay Institute’s acquisition of the Aquarium of the Bay is an impressive feat for the small nonprofit in trying economic times. The Bay Institute’s capital campaign to acquire the aquarium attracted contributions from many individual donors, donations from corporations and foundations, and major funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the Marin Community Foundation and the Dean Witter Foundation. Notable individual donors included Ruth and Ben Hammett, and the entire board and many staff members of The Bay Institute. In addition, the campaign received support from colleague organizations, local and national political leaders, as well as pro bono services from Morrison & Foerster, Deloitte and Ogilvy Public Relations. The balance of the funding was raised through the issuance of tax-exempt revenue bonds backed by First National Bank of Central California, a unit of Pacific Capital Bank.

The Bay Institute and The Bay Institute Aquarium Foundation will continue fundraising efforts to secure additional support for expansion of their science, education and conservation programs, as well as new joint programs with other education and environmental organizations.

“Raising the capital to acquire Aquarium of the Bay through traditional fundraising during the most serious economic downturn in our country’s recent history was an uphill battle,” stated Steven N. Machtinger, President of the Board of The Bay Institute Aquarium Foundation. “Thanks to the aquarium’s strong operating income, we were able to borrow the balance of funding. Moving forward, our growth strategy calls for an ongoing campaign to raise additional funding and grants in order to realize our vision of Aquarium of the Bay becoming a world class interpretive center that will shape the Bay for years to come.”

About Aquarium of the Bay

Aquarium of the Bay is unique nature center dedicated to inspiring conservation of the San Francisco Bay and all marine environments. It is the only aquarium featuring exhibitions focused specifically on the rich and diverse aquatic life and distinctive ecosystems of the Bay and its surrounding waters. The aquarium is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and certified as a Green Business by the city of San Francisco. The aquarium is fully owned by The Bay Institute Aquarium Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit doing business as Aquarium of the Bay. Additional information is available at www.aquariumofthebay.com.

About The Bay Institute

The San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit, The Bay Institute, was founded in 1981 by pioneers of a new advocacy approach which viewed the entire San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem as a single, interdependent watershed. The Bay Institute uses a combination of scientific research, public education and political advocacy to work toward the protection and environmental restoration of the entire watershed which drains into San Francisco Bay. The Bay Institute’s work encompasses the centers of political and economic power, from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., where it works to place long-term environmental needs on equal footing with other priorities in the formation of the area’s environmental and economic policies.

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John Frawley

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SOURCE Aquarium of the Bay


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