SEWARD (AP) -- The future of the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward is looking up, according to Tylan Schrock, the center's executive director.
He told the Greater Soldotna Chamber of Commerce last week that the center has turned the corner on its financial problems, and now is poised to expand. Plans call for setting up major exhibitions and building new animal holding facilities.
The center opened in 1998. It was plagued with construction problems, staff turnover, higher costs and fewer guests than anticipated. But two infusions of federal dollars made the difference. A year ago, the center paid off its construction debt with a $14 million appropriation. This year, the center is awash in research funding to study endangered Steller sea lions. And it plans to open a new, interactive exhibit on whales April 20.
''The good news is I can stand here today and say we have turned the corner,'' Schrock told the chamber. ''We are expanding rapidly. ... We are becoming an economic force in Seward. ... I'd like to think we're becoming one of those anchor tenants for the Kenai Peninsula.''
Developing its own identity and purpose has helped the center.
Schrock, whose background is in public administration, developed a new business plan, and the center is focusing on its unique attributes.
''Essentially what I want you to walk out of that facility with is an education,'' he said.
For example, the Discovery Gift Shop management decided to stock fewer tourism items, which are readily available at other Seward shops, in favor of more educational materials such as reference books. Since that change, sales have increased, he said.
Schrock compared running the center to coordinating different businesses under one roof: a tourism destination, a scientific research laboratory, a zoo-aquarium and a wildlife rehabilitation hospital. Integrating and fostering all of them is key to the center's survival, he said.
''I cannot lop off any of those,'' he said.
Other projects on the drawing board include more education courses, expanded Steller sea lion research projects and a 2003 exhibit on the Bering Sea ecosystem.
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