The largest aquarium in South America, Acquario Ceará, is expected to open its doors in 2015. While this unique design and location may be enough for a cool story, there is an even more intriguing story behind the aquarium. The aquarium will be built in Fortaleza, Brazil, in hopes of driving tourism on the heels of the World Cup. The notion of building an eye-catching, cultural hub to draw visitors is nothing new.
Dubbed the Bilbao effect after the success of a new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Acquario Ceará hopes to turn the local economy through tourism. But just wait. The story gets even more interesting and complex at the same time. Aquariums are unique builds requiring the services of global firms that specialize in a particular component, so it is understood if not all the components are sourced in Brazil. In fact, most all of the design, fabrication, construction and funding is coming from outside of Brazil — right here in North America.
The design of Acquario Ceará comes from Imagic Brasil, the Latin American division of the US-based design firm Jack Rouse Associates. The aquariums unorthodox design features a crazy exoskeleton being fabricated by Kansas City-based metal fabrication firm Zahner. The actual construction is being guided by Colorado-based custom aquarium manufacturer International Concept Management. As The Atlantic’s Citylab wrote in its article, “Acquario Ceará is basically a Midwestern export.”
So how does such a US-centric project get off the ground in Brazil? It seems the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the official export credit agency of the United States federal government, gave the project a $105 million direct loan on the idea this will support 700 US jobs with the majority of the work going through small business.
As with anything of this scale and international collaboration, there is controversy. Some opponents in Brazil say the use of public money for this build is extravagant given the social problems in the state, a common theme found in the World Cup protests that played in the background during this year’s marquee event. Controversy also is coming from this side as some government officials, most notably Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who wants to see the ExIm Bank go away.
We love aquariums and would definitely like to see a positive story come out of this news. The notion of supporting small business makes sense over giving money to large corporate behemoths. There are better chances the money stays in the local community, providing a boost to communities here.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that Brazil has social issues – from access to healthcare and education to basic infrastructure needs in transportation, utilities and houses – that should be addressed as well. Sure a thriving tourism industry will provide more local money, however there is no guarantee it will happen. If it does, chances are it will take years for things to grow and it will not be the immediate economic boost all will expect.
This looks like an aquarium to rival the best in the world, however there is plenty of controversy and hurdles to overcome before the first fish gets its new home.