Sunday, January 28, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 28, 2001

Facility should excel in exhibits that inspire, educate and entertain

Board of the Ocean Science Center of the Pacific.

Rarely do we have a chance to upgrade our cityscape, create a world-class educational experience for our children and launch a new gathering place for residents and visitors - all in a single stroke.

We can do just that by creating a Museum Plaza in the makai area of Kakaako. Building on the foundation set by the Children’s Discovery Center and Kakaako Park, it could include a relocated, revitalized Bishop Museum Science and Technology Center and a new Ocean Science Center of the Pacific along the Kakaako shoreline.

As members of the board of the proposed ocean center, we have committed to raising $20 million in private money to help bring this vision to reality. We do so because we believe the 46-year-old Waikiki Aquarium is nearing the end of its useful life and has no space to rebuild and expand.

But what exactly should replace it? And who are we building it for? Should we create just another, larger, new aquarium? An aquatic theme park purely for entertainment and profit?

We believe it’s time to consider a "new generation" marine science learning center that will be important to this community for the next 100 years, just as the Waikiki Aquarium and, before it, Honolulu Aquarium were during the 20th century.

This new facility must have world-class exhibits that inspire and educate as well as entertain. In the process, it must also generate sufficient revenue to pay for the facility as well as provide community service and education programs.

While any such facility will need an investment from government to get off the ground, it must be financially self-sufficient and not rely on tax revenues to supplement its operating costs.

Frankly, if it were just an aquarium, we wouldn’t be involved. We’re not interested in working on "just another aquarium." Rather, we imagine a place where the community could connect with and learn about the ocean around us.

We imagine a place where our children and families could enjoy themselves and learn to think of the ocean and its inhabitants as among our state’s most significant resources.

We imagine video monitors connecting to undersea cameras at Molokini, Niihau and Loihi.

The opportunities and future needs of the community are too great to limit the vision to just an aquatic zoo. The ocean is immensely important to the culture and commerce of these Islands, but:

Does everyone who lives here understand how their actions affect the ocean, or how the ocean affects them?

Do they know what kind of ocean research is under way in Hawai’i?

Why are so many fisheries around the world collapsing?

Why have 25 percent of the world’s coral reefs died in the past 20 years? Can this happen here?

We should develop a new institution to help enlighten our community about these ocean issues. Early trial balloons for the Ocean Science Center have attracted their share of darts. One critic called it a "$50 million fish tank."

Others have said Hawaii can’t afford to build it because we need to give raises to government workers instead.

Some have painted this project as a choice between better schools or a new aquarium.

We don’t believe it’s "either/or." We see the potential for "win/win."

For example, do our children have the world-class facilities they deserve to help them learn about the ocean and become better stewards of its resources when they become adults? If not, can we afford to build such facilities in every school in the state? Not likely.

The greatest opportunity that a new Ocean Science Center offers to our community is to create new world-class teaching facilities that can be used by all of the schools. Facilities where students can explore the ocean, sample marine life, study ocean currents, explore deep-ocean depths with remote-operated vehicles.

Why not create exhibits that every student in the state (indeed, the world) can view, whether they visit the facility or not, using live cameras streaming real-time video over the Internet? Teachers should be able to broadcast live programs, including underwater video, to schools throughout the state.

Why shouldn’t we strive to make the new Ocean Science Center the premier center in the world for learning and disseminating information about the oceans? What better place than Hawaii!

These educational facilities could be greatly expanded in scope if developed in conjunction with a new Bishop Museum Science and Technology Center nearby.

Today, anyone can don a mask and see exquisite corals and fishes in Hanauma Bay, or descend to 100 feet in a submarine. These undersea experiences should be made available to all in the Ocean Science Center.

But vast ocean realms lie beyond our ability to view firsthand. A new Ocean Science Center should help bring these frontiers to light through innovative new exhibits. As one example, University of Hawaii researchers have spent years exploring a new undersea volcano, L¯ihi. It should be possible to create a three-dimensional, life-size replica of portions of L¯ihi for all of us to explore. Holographic images can allow us to populate the exhibit with realistic simulations of the bizarre animals that live nearly a mile beneath the sea.

If the idea of the Ocean Science Center is to be weighed on its merits by the public and legislators, we must elevate the level of discussion and understanding of the opportunities that this project offers. Will such a project require tax dollars to develop? Very likely it will, unless a donor steps forward to contribute the $70 million required to build this facility.

Why not let a commercial developer build it? A good question, but unlikely to happen because the return on investment for a project of this scale is much too low.

That’s why we have proposed a workable mix of financing:

$20 million in private contributions, which our board has committed to raise.

$20 million in revenue bonds, to be repaid by the Ocean Science Center.

$30 million from state government through bond financing in the capital improvements budget.

Our not-for-profit management group could earn enough from admission fees, memberships, donations and other sources to pay the annual operating costs and to retire the $20 million revenue bond debt as well.

The return on investment for an institution such as this is not measured in terms of dollars but rather in value to the community.

This is a civic project that should be supported by government, one that will make returns to our community for the next 100 years if we think far enough ahead and plan it properly.

The board of the Ocean Science Center of the Pacific consists of Walter Dods Jr., First Hawaiian Bank; Bob Coe, DFS Hawaii; Bruce Carlson, Waikiki Aquarium; Mitch D’Olier, Victoria Ward Ltd.; W. Allen Doane, Alexander & Baldwin Inc.; Dr. Julia Frohlich, Blood Bank of Hawaii; Guy Fujimura, ILWU Local 142; George Paris, Iron Workers Union, Local 625; James Schuler, Schuler Homes Inc.; Kitty Simonds, Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council; Tony Vericella, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.; Jeffrey Watanabe, Watanabe, Ing & Kawashima; Loretta Yajima, Children’s Discovery Center.

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