Member Spotlight – Aquarium of Niagara

Member Spotlight: Aquarium of Niagara’s President and CEO Gary Siddall

Over 50 years ago, on June 12, 1965, the Aquarium of Niagara was opened as a privately-owned corporation. It has grown and evolved over the years not only into an amazing tourist attraction, but as a driving force for aquatic life. The Aquarium of Niagara is proud to provide long term care and housing to multiple rescued and non-releasable marine mammals. The Niagara USA Chamber had the privilege of interviewing Gary Siddall, President and CEO of
the Aquarium of Niagara, to highlight some new and exciting things happening at the Aquarium.

Could you just tell me a little bit about yourself and your position with the Aquarium?
I’m currently President and CEO. I started at the Aquarium in 2002 as a volunteer in the zoological department. Since that time, I’ve worked my way up to this role, spending a lot of time working directly with the animals, specifically with our seals and sea lions. All of those years are what gave me a background in animal care. That experience was definitely useful in moving up the ranks, but my education background includes a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s in organizational leadership.

2020 was obviously a difficult year for everyone. What changes have you put in place at the Aquarium that grew out of the pandemic and that may stay in place for the rest of the year or so on?
Much changed in 2020, and we adapted many of our operational practices and procedures. A lot of these changes are common sense these days, but we reduced capacity to comply with state guidelines and added a few of our own twists to keep things safe. We implemented one-way traffic through the building, implemented spacing between each of the exhibits to avoid crowding, and eliminated touchpoints to make things safer. We found that we are able to provide a bit more of an intimate experience for our guests, and see that our staff is having personal conversations with visitors, rather than in the past where the crowds were too large for candid discussions.

What updates and new events are coming up in the near future?
We just opened a new exhibit, a shark and stingray touch pool, so that was the first time where guests were actually able to get hands-on with the animals as part of general admission. This summer we will be opening a welcome plaza in front of the facility that will celebrate the fact that the aquarium has this great new access to the Niagara Gorge.

That’s the “Whirlpool Commons” correct? And received a grant for that?
Yes we did, the Greenway (Commission) was able to make a funding award in partnership with the City of Niagara Falls to fully fund the entire project. We were very fortunate to inherit a new concrete plaza after the removal of the Robert Moses Parkway, but this development will transform the landscape in a way that we really wanted to see.

The project will create a little bit of shading so folks that are visiting have a chance to get out of the sun. It also creates some programming areas where we can deliver content for the community to come and enjoy.

You are currently open correct?
Yes.

What does your Niagara USA Chamber membership mean to you?
Any opportunity for businesses and organizations to come together and be unified is an advantage. I think everyone realized you could rely on partnerships through the pandemic, and that meant having the ability to call colleagues or peers and run ideas past one another. Information flows both inward and outward through the Chamber, and that is incredibly valuable. The chamber is often the first source to push information out whether it’s regarding guidance that might be changing or potential funding opportunities, there are always great resources.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I like to end a lot of conversations by reminding individuals that if you haven’t been to the Aquarium of Niagara in a while, or if you have a historically negative impression from the past, come give us another chance. Things have changed very much in the last several years, and we’ve spent almost 10 million dollars investing in new programs, new exhibits and new amenities. Change takes time, but we believe that we are on the right trajectory.

For more information about the Aquarium visit: https://www.aquariumofniagara.org

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