Teach on the beach? National Aquarium annex: Satellite attraction would fit well at beach resort.

February 06, 1996

NOT LONG AGO, Ocean City could wave "hello" on Memorial Day, count the receipts all summer and, on Labor Day, ask the last visitor heading west to please turn out the lights.

No longer. The tourism industry has become hugely competitive and immensely lucrative, with states investing millions in marketing. Gov. Parris N. Glendening hopes to double Maryland's tourism economy, to $10 billion, by the year 2000. Few locations are as integral to that goal as Ocean City.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore, another major tourist draw, recently proposed building a satellite facility in Ocean City. The idea is but a fish egg now, but it could evolve into a vital addition for both attractions.

The 14-year-old aquarium just came off a record year, drawing 1.63 million visitors. It remains the envy of an industry that has been tapped often in recent years as a stimulus for urban revivals across the U.S. But Baltimore's aquarium has no room to grow and thus is considering sites for expansion.

Ocean City is also all but built out, since a development boom in the 1960s and '70s filled the beachfront with high-rises. The city's quandary is its downtown, a wedge of weathered saltbox houses that harken back to the resort's Victorian past. Many are in need of repair. If the aquarium could find the right site in this part of town, it might mark the second time the non-profit facility helped revitalize a downtown in this state.

Ocean City's population swells each summer to become the second largest city in Maryland; many of the 8 million visitors there would welcome a quality educational attraction, especially in the evenings and on poor-weather days. Plenty of tourism ideas seem like pie in the sky; this one looks like a gem on the beach.

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