Tennessee Aquarium celebrates 30 years, touts $4.9B impact

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Chattanooga’s Tennessee Aquarium, the city’s biggest tourist draw, is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

When the $45 million privately-funded riverfront attraction opened as the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, backers projected that it would attract about 600,000 visitors a year to an area of town that had been in decline, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

In its first year, the aquarium more than doubled that projection, drawing 1.5 million visitors to quickly emerge as the region’s biggest tourism draw. The aquarium’s success has since spurred the addition of other riverfront attractions, restaurants, hotels and housing developments. A new economic study estimates the aquarium has pumped nearly $4.9 billion into Chattanooga’s economy since 1992.

Barry White, president of the Chattanooga Tourism Co., said the aquarium has helped propel Hamilton’s tourism industry and improve life for local residents.

“The level of impact the aquarium has on conservation efforts, educational reach, revitalization of our downtown and ongoing economic impact is incredible,” White said in a report on the aquarium’s 30th anniversary.