San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay Poised for Success

The Aquarium of the Bay is bouncing back from an inauspicious start as a failing tourist destination. The nonprofit Bay Institute Aquarium Foundation today announced the successful purchase of the institution from Darius Anderson and Kenwood Bay Aquarium, LLC. The acquisition had been in the works for four years, says a spokesperson. The goal is to transform the aquarium into a self-supporting nonprofit that will serve as a center for science, education, and conservation of the San Francisco Bay and its surrounding waters. Christina Swanson, the Bay Institute’s executive director, touted the acquisition as “a new model of social entrepreneurship that partners a leading science-based nonprofit with a successful, public aquarium.”

SF Aquarium

The Bay Institute had attempted a capital campaign to buy the failing aquarium in 2006, but fell short of its fundraising goals. Political strategist and fundraiser Darius Anderson stepped in and bought the aquarium, enabling the Bay Institute to buy more time. Anderson was able to transform the aquarium into the city’s third-largest ticketed attraction. He helped the Aquarium of the Bay get Green certification, launched a sevengill shark research initiative, and instituted an educational program that brought free classes and tours to 15,000 San Francisco public school students in all grades. “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 said.

Anderson’s work in making the aquarium profitable helped the Bat Institute Aquarium Foundation reach their fundraising goals.  Steven N. Machtinger, president of the foundation’s board of trustees said, “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.” But local corporations and foundations like David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the Marin Community Foundation, and the Dean Witter Foundation joined individual donors including Ruth and Ben Hammett and the Bay Institute’s entire board joined to finally put the capital campaign on track for the acquisition. Fundraising efforts continue, and are earmarked for further expansion of science and conservation programs and partnerships with other environmental organizations.

Executive director Swanson feels that the outlook is positive for the Aquarium of the Bay. “The Bay Institute’s work to protect the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas will reach a larger audience, “ she says. And the aquarium itself can now offer school programs to a broader audience while undertaking more aggressive research and conservation projects. “The Aquarium of the Bay will crossroad for collaboration among the scientific, educational, interpretive, and conservation communities.”

The Aquarium of the Bay is included in the San Francisco CityPassPier 39 Attraction Pass and Go San Francisco Card.