Aquarium requests a financial guarantee from the promoter of the garage site
Aquarium officials are negotiating with Chiofaro but have no agreement so far. On Friday, they asked state regulators reviewing proposed zoning for the waterfront to extend the deadline while the two sides continue to discuss.
âLife is simple right now. It’s binary, âsaid CEO Maliz Beams. âDo we have an agreement to protect the survival of the institution? Or not? At the moment, we are not.
While Chiofaro’s 600-foot tower – under construction for a decade – has drawn criticism from various neighbors and neighborhood groups, the aquarium over the past year has become perhaps its most influential opponent. As a waterfront destination, it enjoys special protection under state law. It also has a well-connected board of directors and with over a million visitors per year, a potentially powerful constituency. And the Aquarium has hired PR firms and lobbying heavyweight ML Strategies to help them champion their cause.
If not done carefully, Chiofaro’s project could pose an existential threat to the aquarium, said executive vice president Eric Krauss. The nonprofit posted a small surplus of $ 1.7 million in 2015, with $ 44 million in revenue, according to financial statements, and owes more long-term debt than it holds. in its endowment. If visits decline due to construction up front or if the loss of hundreds of parking spaces keeps people away, the aquarium could quickly end up in the red, Krauss said.
âWe’re basically a breakeven company now, before the risk introduced by someone else’s construction project,â Krauss said. âMost of our income comes from attendance. If it drops 10%, all of a sudden we lose $ 3.5 million. “
The organization is therefore asking Chiofaro to promise to cover any loss of income and provide parking – during construction and permanently after the building is finished. The aquarium wants this enshrined in the zoning rules and is ready to fight the project until it happens.
Although neither side discussed the details of the talks, citing a nondisclosure agreement, Chiofaro said he had proposed a “gold-plated” plan to help manage the impacts of the construction. He was confident that an agreement would be reached soon.
âIt’s a negotiation. It sounds more intense than it actually is, âChiofaro said. âI am very sensitive to the fact that this is a vulnerable institution. We have a vested interest in them surviving and thriving. “
Meanwhile, talks between Chiofaro and the aquarium angered other neighbors who have followed the project closely.
In a letter to state regulators on Friday, the Wharf District Council, which represents landowners along the waterfront, called for any agreement between Chiofaro and the aquarium to be made public before zoning is approved.
“Such trilateral agreements potentially affect the whole community,” wrote Wharf District Council chairman Marc Margulies.
Condominium owners in skyscrapers nearby Harbor Towers, while noting “grounds for optimism” during recent talks with Chiofaro and the aquarium, have launched new language that could allow Chiofaro Tower to grow. cover a larger footprint if it acquires the IMAX cinema from the aquarium.
“Harbor Towers and the Wharf District Council viewed this action as a betrayal of their agreement and totally unjustified,” wrote the Harbor Towers board of directors.
State officials will now review the public comments, which were due on Friday, and are expected to vote on the zoning plan in the coming months.
Chiofaro’s idea to buy and demolish the IMAX theater is part of a larger plan that the aquarium unveiled last year to create a so-called Blueway of public space on and around Central Wharf. But the aquarium said it needed to be protected from the construction of Chiofaro before accepting the park’s new land. âWe would love to create the Blueway, and we would love to be a part of it,â said Krauss. “But if we can’t survive, there isn’t much we can talk about.”