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Study shows John Ball Zoo aquarium should be located in Kent County


Aquarium project has potential $2.9-billion economic impact 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A feasibility study conducted for John Ball Zoo’s potential aquarium showed the project should be located in Kent County.  

The study, completed 2023 by Canopy Strategic Partners, showed that a Kent County-based aquarium builds a strong financial model for the long-term sustainability of the facility. The study also explored Muskegon County as a potential location. The aquarium is expected to generate a $2.9 billion net economic impact on Kent County over 10 years, with guests visiting local businesses such as restaurants, retailers and entertainment venues.  

“Both Kent and Muskegon counties would be amazing partners on this exciting project, and it’s been a pleasure partnering with forward-thinking local officials as we continue to plan for an aquarium that will bring huge economic benefits to West Michigan,” said Peter D’Arienzo, CEO of John Ball Zoo. “The research showed both communities offer unique destination traits of lakeshore recreation versus urban core entertainment. At this time, Kent County reflects greater financial and operational capacity to move this project forward.” 

According to the study, the aquarium will create 2,427 jobs and generate more than $231 million in state and local tax revenue in the first 10 years of operation. John Ball Zoo leadership is expecting the aquarium to be a national attraction, bringing in visitors from around the country. Currently, the closest large-scale aquarium to Grand Rapids is the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, about 170 miles away. 

The aquarium project is in the beginning planning stages. An aquarium of this scale has not been built in the U.S. in the last 20 years. 

“We at John Ball Zoo are incredibly excited about the potential of this project to expand our mission of saving wildlife and wild places, providing meaningful educational experiences and delivering amazing economic benefits to our community,” D’Arienzo said.  

John Ball Zoo currently creates more than $100 million in economic activity every year in West Michigan and is one of the most attended cultural attractions in the state, with more than 700,000 visitors each year. 

About John Ball Zoo 

John Ball Zoo is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation founded in 1891 and located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Guided by the five core values of Conservation, Education, Community, Celebration, and Compassion John Ball Zoo accomplishes the mission to inspire our community to be actively engaged in the conservation of wildlife and wild places. As a conservation organization, John Ball Zoo works to protect wildlife and wild places, starting right here in our Great Lakes region. John Ball Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, demonstrating that we hold ourselves to the highest standards in animal care and welfare. 

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