Brown says he'll resign from aquarium in 1995 Retirement to follow ring tank project

August 16, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Nearly a decade after he took the helm of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, executive director Nicholas Brown has notified board members that he plans to retire in the summer of 1995.

Mr. Brown said he will stay on the job until contractors complete a $12.7 million renovation of the facility's showcase ring tank exhibits, a 15-month project that will begin this fall.

He said he gave board members advance notice of his decision to step down so they would have ample time to find a replacement.

"It's time for a new person to come in," Mr. Brown said yesterday. "I really feel that an institution does not prosper if it's headed by a single personality for too long. This is my second career. I'll be 62. I think it may be time to let a younger person take on the next phase."

Frank Gunther Jr., chairman of the aquarium's board of governors, said the institution will launch a national search to find a director one year before Mr. Brown's departure date.

Mr. Gunther said board members are formulating a strategic plan to guide the aquarium and will use it to determine what qualities they want in the next director.

"Do we want a hands-on administrator? Do we want a fund-raiser? A professional conservation person? A fish person? All of this takes time to evaluate, and we want to be sure the board and staff are in sync about where they want to be down the road. Any candidate who's worth his salt is going to ask where the aquarium is headed."

Located on Inner Harbor Piers 3 and 4, the aquarium is Maryland's busiest paid tourist attraction, drawing 1.5 million visitors a year and pumping more than $125 million into the local economy.

Mr. Brown became its third director, after James Kepley and Peter Pelham, when he began work on Feb. 15, 1984.

A scion of the well-known Brown family of Providence, R.I., he joined the aquarium after retiring in 1983 as a captain in the U.S. Navy. He had served in the Navy for 27 years.

While at the aquarium, Mr. Brown has been responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations and long-range expansion of the facility, whose annual budget is $14 million.

The aquarium has 300 employees, 500 volunteers and more than 100,000 members in 27,000 households.

He also has been instrumental in transforming the aquarium from a place of entertainment and education to a powerful advocacy organization that urges its visitors to take action to conserve resources and protect the natural environment.

Within the industry, he has earned a reputation as one of the wisest and most knowledgeable aquarium directors in the country. He gives unstintingly of his time to meet with groups planning or constructing aquariums, such as the one planned for Charleston, S.C.

Widely traveled, and gifted with an instinct for knowing what makes people respond to public attractions, he has also been an invaluable resource to Baltimore officials planning changes to the Inner Harbor.

Mr. Brown said he has no other job offers and no firm plans for his retirement. But he said he does not intend to join another aquarium, as former deputy director Bill Flynn did when he became president of the Tennessee Aquarium several years ago.

This fall, the National Aquarium will launch an "animated laser and light show" called ImaginOcean on Pier 3 -- an attraction to offset the temporary shutdown for repairs of the Atlantic Coral Reef and Open Ocean tanks.

The ring tanks contain 555,000 gallons of water and close to 1,000 specimens. The goal of the tank repair project is to fix structural damage caused by saltwater, improve the appearance of the artificial coral reef and upgrade the life-support systems.

Mr. Brown said he'll stay at the aquarium until the renovations are complete in early 1995 to make sure the project goes smoothly.

Mr. Brown said he believes his replacement will have to be a good administrator and fund-raiser, because "it's getting harder and harder to make ends meet."

But above all else, he said, the aquarium will need "a visionary" who can chart a course for the next century.

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