Great Lake Aquarium sets record breaking attendance, directors plan to meet demand for growing future

The Great Lakes Aquarium is celebrating record breaking attendance in 2022, surpassing over 200,000 visitors, which has been a longtime goal for aquarium directors. The official visitor tally was 200,626 for the year, shattering 2021’s record of 190,849, an increase of 5.1%. This milestone is nearly double attendance from just a decade ago.

The Aquarium credits the popularity of its a water-play exhibit H2O, in part, for the increased traffic to the attraction. The exhibit opened at the end of 2021. Since that time, their local memberships have rebounded to greater than pre-pandemic levels.

The aquarium says tourism is part of their success too. In recent years, the city has seen a growing trend in shoulder season tourists. “Our spring and fall numbers continue to grow at a dramatic pace, extending our traditional tourism season,” said Executive Director Jay Walker. “What used to be a three-month summer blast is now a seven to eight months-long stretch of ‘high’ season. We believe this shows both opportunity and demand for new ideas and expansion.” 

To meet that demand and plan for a growing future, Great Lakes Aquarium is seeking nearly $700,000 in the Minnesota state bonding bill in 2023.  Most of those funds will be used to repair and upgrade aging infrastructure in the nearly 23-year-old building. However, more than $75,000 is being sought for planning, focusing on growth both inside and around the attraction.

“We have a priority list of building projects that will focus on efficiency, increasing the water conservation of our facility and meeting the demands for our education programming,” said Walker. “However, we must plan for the future. If we continue the trajectory of growth we’ve seen, we need to reimagine our building space. Our vision is a facility that offers more room for exhibits, experiences and enjoyment for a growing number of visitors.”