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Onondaga County Legislature approves $1.7M purchase of land for aquarium by 9-8 vote

The Onondaga County Legislature voted 9-8 to authorize $1.7 million for the purchase of the land to house the Onondaga County aquarium.
Ava Pukatch
The Onondaga County Legislature voted 9-8 to authorize $1.7 million for the purchase of the land to house the Onondaga County aquarium.

The Onondaga County Legislature voted 9-8 Tuesday to authorize $1.7 million to purchase from COR Development the property which will house the Onondaga County aquarium.

The total cost of the Onondaga County aquarium was previously approved at $85 million.

Democratic Floor Leader Chris Ryan voted no on the purchase. He initially tried to postpone the vote for 60 days, wanting more time to ensure the aquarium can be built for the amount of money budgeted.

Ryan also wanted to see if there were other funding sources for the project noting Atlanta's aquarium was subsidized by Home Depot.

"It's not just, 'We're going to build this and then go out and possibly get some naming rights after it,'" Ryan said. "Why not get some naming rights before? Why not get some public-private partnership? Why not go back to some of our industries? Why not take some of the health care institutions or whatever and try to offset some of the cost a bit? But 100% of this cost burden is on the county taxpayers."

Republican legislator Ken Bush voted no saying it's not a partisan issue — it's a commonsense issue.

"I'm voting for my constituents who have made it very, very clear to me that they do not think this is a commonsense, taxpayer-worthy project and they are more concerned about housing people than housing fish," Bush said.

Some other concerns among the legislators who voted no were that the cost of the project could exceed the $85 million budgeted due to factors like inflation.

Republican Legislator Tim Burtis, who voted for the purchase, said that is a separate situation.

"If they go over $85 million, they're going to have to come and see us," Burtis said. "In my mind, that's how this works."

Republican Legislator Julie Abbott also voted for the purchase. She said it's a revenue maker as people visiting will frequent other area businesses.

"The money is there," Abbott said. "The reality of it is when you invest in an economic development project, that's smart investment in our community because sales tax is driven up. As a county we rely on sales tax, that is our number one source of revenue. You can't just look at the money that's here now, you have to look at sustainability."

County Executive Ryan McMahon said in his State of the County address that construction could start as early as this summer.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.