Aquarium faces sink or swim business decisions
When he opened Waters of the World in Oak Bluffs, Ed McGill hoped to be floating on the first summer of success right now. Instead, he is making an appeal to Island residents to keep his public aquarium from sinking.
"We're reaching out, we really need their support to get through this winter," Mr. McGill said, "so we can survive until the tourist season, so we can get on our feet and also so we can properly care for the animals."
Delays in the opening of the unique attraction, the unpredictable factors in starting a new business, the short summer season, and a difficult economy combined to throw a monkey wrench into Mr. McGill's plans for Waters of the World.
His business plan called for an April opening for the aquarium at the top of Circuit Avenue, in the building that formerly housed Jaba's. But a financial setback and construction delays pushed the grand opening into mid-August.
"We had somebody who committed to give us some money that we needed pull out at the eleventh hour. That really hurt us," Mr. McGill said. "Construction killed us. What was supposed to have taken a few weeks wound up taking about four months. That was probably the biggest problem we had. Once people started coming in, the word spread, it started getting good, but the season stopped."
Mr. McGill has launched a two-part appeal. His company has formed a nonprofit organization called Waters of the World Educational Aquatic Center, which can accept tax-deductible donations. The money will be used only to conduct educational programs for Island schoolchildren. Mr. McGill's plan is to have the aquarium open its doors to schoolchildren for free during the winter.
In order to enhance the aquarium's appeal to the Island community, Mr. McGill is changing some of the exhibits to include species such as native fish and shellfish, in addition to the tropical fish and "petting" sharks.
The other part of Mr. McGill's appeal is for annual memberships. Memberships start at $35 for a single annual membership, which allows unlimited admission to Waters of the World, discounts on merchandise, and other benefits. The individual cost is reduced to $25 for families or groups purchasing four or more memberships. Memberships are refundable in full, if the business is forced to close.
Mr. McGill says that he has until December 15 to shore up finances, and if he can sell enough memberships to sustain the business through the winter, he is confident he can get the business on its feet, and eventually provide more jobs.
"We have a very small staff, three people," Mr. McGill said. "Once we're fully going, we will be able to provide many jobs. I can envision 10 to 15 employees."