The Atlantic City Aquarium at Gardner's Basin wants to double its space and install a 200,000-gallon tank that would make a visit there more akin to visiting a large city aquarium.
It sounds like a great idea, and one that fits in well with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority's plans to redevelop the South Inlet. A revamped Gardner's Basin - and a refurbished Boardwalk leading to it - would be a natural extension of that plan.
Everyone agrees Atlantic City needs to diversify its attractions, to increase the number of things to do in town besides gamble. And those attractions should be world-class, to better compete with other tourist destinations.
The aquarium has put the cost of this project at $8 million, and is asking the city to approve its plans so it can approach the CRDA to request funding.
This kind of investment can be risky. The failure of the Atlantic City Surf professional baseball team, which left the 5,000 seat Surf Stadium empty after the team's 11-year run, illustrates how difficult it is to predict success.
But failing to make investments in Atlantic City's future is much more risky.
A recent survey by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey found that 48 percent to 56 percent of adults who travel in the Northeast look for things such as museums and performing art centers when planning vacations - places that are entertaining and instructive. An expanded aquarium seems to fit that bill.
And the aquarium has a proven track record. The nonprofit Atlantic City Historical Waterfront Organization that manages the aquarium has increased the number of annual visitors by appealing to both tourists and locals.
School districts from throughout South Jersey take students on trips to the aquarium, where they can board a tour boat at the nearby marina for environmental lessons on the water and see the home of one of the East Coast's biggest fishing and clamming fleets. It's also a great place to hold a birthday party. (Parents know how important that is.)
Gardner's Basin is home to music and ethnic festivals and other events. Working artists, speciality shops and restaurants are already there, and the plan calls for building an indoor shopping center.
Locals who remember the old Northeast Inlet, with the iconic Captain Starn's and Hackney's seafood restaurants, sea lion and seal exhibits, tour boats and seaplane rides, can't help but hope that the basin will be able to recover the magic of its heyday. Into the 1960s it was a vibrant place where people of all ages - tourists and locals - could encounter nature, great food, and entertainment.
The aquarium also hopes to bring in a marine research center and perhaps entice Brigantine's Marine Mammal Stranding Center to relocate there. If it all comes to pass, the magic will be back.