If you’re like most people, the last time you looked in on our modest aquarium at Fair Park you were either trailing a pack of preschoolers or researching the potential hypnotic effects of the South American electric eel. Odd then, you might say, that our humble little fish museum would become the focus of a nasty squabble at City Hall.
It started a few days before the City Council approved the creation of the new Cultural Affairs Office. Just ahead of that deal, the Park Board transferred the administration of the aquarium from the Dallas Museum of Natural History to the zoo. Since the museum was splitting off with the Cultural Affairs Office, it seemed to some observers that the aquarium was becoming part of the turf war between the Park Board and the cultural office. In other words, the move appeared to be a last-minute attempt to keep the aquarium under the control of the Park Board.
So what’s the problem? For one, the move heightened existing fears that the aquarium would be moved out of Fair Park to the zoo. Zoo Director Warren Iliff is already on record as favoring redoing the existing facility as a children’s aquarium and building a spectacular new model at the zoo. But Mary Ellen Degnan. head of the Friends of Fair Park, is afraid that the exodus of one more attraction from Fair Park would be its death knell.
Degnan’s pleas haven’t fallen on deaf ears at City Hall. Council member Lori Palmer sternly berated Dallas Zoological Society president Claude Albritton and Park and Recreation Director Frank Wise at an April council meeting for waffling on whether or not the aquarium belongs at Fair Park.
“Will you assure us that the aquarium will remain at Fair Park?” Palmer asked Wise.
“I will do all within my power to assure that,” he replied.
“That’s not good enough,” said Palmer.
Palmer’s fears may be well founded. The Park Board doesn’t seem convinced either that the aquarium should stay in Fair Park. In fact. Park Board president Ida Papert says the aquarium may be doomed to mediocrity-especially if it tries to expand. “If we think we’ve got parking problems now, wait until we’ve got a world-class aquarium out there,” she says.