Saint John — In an effort to revamp Saint John’s historic waterfront, Mayor Mel Norton announced plans yesterday for an underwater observatory in the city’s harbour. “I believe this is an opportunity to make Saint John one of the top 5 tourist destinations on the Atlantic coast. Well, maybe not top 5, but at least more interesting than the tidal bore,” he said. “It will provide a modern edge to a harbour steeped in history.”
The proposed design, which will be accessed by an entryway in Market Square, will consist of 2 main attractions — a large aquarium, which will feature exotic marine life unfamiliar to the region, and a sprawling observatory that will allow visitors a rare glimpse beneath the surface of the harbour. When asked what variety of marine life patrons could expect to see in the aquarium, Mayor Norton replied, “Fish, mostly.”
The observatory will feature windows 6 feet tall, underwater passages with portholes that will allow visitors to venture farther out into the harbour, and a first-class seafood restaurant with 2 walls made entirely of windows. There will also be an opportunity for learning — set up throughout the observatory will be interactive panels where guests will be able to learn about oceanography and marine life in Atlantic Canada.
The idea has been met with mixed reviews from the public. Martina Schmidt, a frequenter of Treats Coffee Emporium in Market Square, approves wholeheartedly of the initiative. “You know, I think it’s really something. I think it will bring the tourists in and it will really help put Saint John on the map.”
Others, however, have a more cynical view of the observatory. “There’s already garbage floating around in the harbour. Why would anyone want to pay to see it underwater?” asked Steven Simms, a local youth found loitering in King’s Square. “Besides, I’m pretty sure I could just close my eyes and still see more than I would in that observatory.”
While no estimated cost has been made public, City Council confirmed yesterday that the provincial government has committed funds to the project, as have a number of private investors who wish to remain anonymous for the time being. Although Norton acknowledges that the public will likely be wary of the building costs, he is adamant in his belief that the long-term economic benefits of the observatory will far outweigh the initial expenditures. “Between the residents of Saint John and the number of people visiting us on cruise ships every year, we are certain that this will be a viable operation. We’re looking to create a world-class attraction here which will provide an economic boon not only to Saint John, but to all of New Brunswick,” he said.
The observatory is set to open summer 2018.