Detroit Zoo eyeing Riverfront spot for new downtown aquarium

"If you build it, they will come." 

That's sort of been downtown Detroit's unofficial motto the last few years and now, perhaps inspiration for the Detroit Zoo to make good on a dream deferred: an aquarium on the riverfront.

The Detroit Zoo is eyeing the old Ford Auditorium lot next to Hart Plaza as a potential site for an aquarium. They say they've been flirting with the idea of building on the waterfront since 1993.

A spokesperson says it could cost as much as $150 million to build an aquarium. The Zoo could help foot the bill, though, with the help of private and foundation donations as well as public support.

The Detroit Metro Convention and Visitor's Bureau says an aquarium would attract more tourists and have a big economic impact.

"Right now, since the east waterfront has been developed, there has already been an economic impact of about $2 billion - that's billion with a 'B,'" says Renee Monforton. "So imagine what it could be once we add this aquarium to one of the most beautiful riverfronts in the United States."

Some people we talked with, though, had reservations about the idea.  

"I would like to see them put in some parking resolutions before they put in another attraction," said Nicki Deering. "Other than that I think it would be a wonderful idea."

But either way, one thing is certain: Building an aquarium downtown would take care of one problem. 

"It would help marry the Detroit Zoo with the city of Detroit and bring them downtown," said Danielle Flint, who likes the idea. "I mean Royal Oak is close enough but to marry it and then encourage people to go out to the actual Zoo as well."

You may know Detroit already has one aquarium, the Belle Isle Aquarium. Members of the Conservancy, though, say they are not threatened by the possibility of a major aquarium being built just down the river. In fact, they say when the SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium came to town at Great Lakes Crossing, their numbers at Belle Isle actually went up.

It's unknown if Zoo officials are talking about building an aquarium using tax dollars. They're not sure yet if, and in what form, any public support would come.