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Old Posted Mar 7, 2007, 1:03 PM
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NY Sun

New York Aquarium Chooses New Design

By ELIOT BROWN
March 7, 2007

The New York Aquarium has chosen a design for its new exterior, a giant, wavy, cage-like enclosure with an aquatic theme, sources tell The New York Sun.

The design, created by a Philadelphia-based firm, Wallace, Roberts & Todd, and Barcelona-based Cloud 9, is intended better to blend the aquarium's multiple Robert Moses-era buildings with the nearby beach. The Coney Island-based aquarium sits at the end of string of parking lots and currently has no direct access to the neighboring boardwalk or ocean.

The aquarium, which is owned and operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, selected the design from three finalists about two months ago, though it has withheld a formal announcement, the sources said.

The plans for the site tie into a larger effort to revitalize the bygone amusement hub, which now lies eerily dormant for half the year.

Representatives at WCS did not return calls for comment and a spokeswoman for Wallace, Roberts & Todd declined to comment.

Coney Island natives, who have long viewed the exterior of the aquarium as uninviting, welcomed the decision to revamp the 50-year-old complex.

"The aquarium has always been hidden away and walled in," a Coney Island historian, Charles Denson, said. "You can't see the ocean from the aquarium. It's right on the Atlantic, but there's nothing that connects it to the beach."

WCS, in conjunction with the city's Economic Development Corporation, began a design contest for the new exterior last summer, asking companies to make a design that could serve as a beacon for the area. About 25 companies made submissions, and the winner was to be announced in the fall.

A spokeswoman for the EDC, which is involved in implementing a strategic plan for the Coney Island area, Janel Patterson, said the EDC and WCS are working out details of the project and do not have a specific time line for construction.

"The perimeter design is really quite a large undertaking — it can't be done all at once," she said. "We want to be sure we're scheduling the correct phasing with funding that becomes available."

The city has sought to revitalize Coney Island for years, and the planning department is working on a rezoning for the area that would allow for new development.

A private developer, Thor Equities, has bought several lots in the area, including the Astroland amusement park, and is engaged in a publicity campaign promoting its plans for a giant new entertainment complex complete with an indoor water park, retail stores, and restaurants to the southwest of the aquarium.

However, the company is seeking to build luxury condominiums in the heart of the district, a plan the city opposes.

Until any development can go forward in the amusement district, Mr. Denson said the aquarium will be one of few sites that will draw people to the area, as Thor plans to close Astroland this fall and continue clearing the land on its other properties.

"It's going to be one of the main attractions in Coney Island," he said. "There's not much left."
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