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No. 17 Wonders of Wildlife

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The American National Fish & Wildlife Museum & Aquarium opened in 2001 to much fanfare, but it didn’t take long for the public-private attraction to fizzle.

Before opening, Wonders of Wildlife organizers touted the 92,000-square-foot site at Campbell Avenue and Sunshine Street as “the Smithsonian of the outdoors” with its 500,000 gallons of aquariums and more than 100 species each of animals and fish.

Early support was strong with presidents George Bush and Jimmy Carter named honorary co-chairmen of the museum board and two governors involved – Mel Carnahan at the Oct. 4, 1999, ground breaking and Bob Holden at the Nov. 2, 2001, grand opening.

The $52 million construction was funded by a Springfield hotel-motel tax, two state of Missouri funding sources, in-kind contributions from Bass Pro Shops founder John L. Morris, tax credits and bond proceeds. Springfield Contractors Association named Wonders of Wildlife Developer of the Year in 2001, due in part to its extensive use of local contractors.

The opening weekend drew 8,000 paying patrons, and nearly 19,000 people walked through the museum’s doors in its first 11 days.

But the tides quickly turned with first-year attendance of 470,000 falling short of its 900,000 projection. Revenues echoed the attendance woes, generating about $5.3 million during its first 12 months of operation through October 2002, well short of its $12.5 million projection.

While some board members questioned the accuracy of the projected numbers, debt payments loomed and conservationist Morris swooped in with millions to keep the museum afloat.
Officials could not reverse the trends, and the museum closed for renovations in December 2007.

Now, officials are targeting a late 2010 reopening date, and the revamped museum will connect to Bass Pro.

See the full list of pivotal points chosen by the Springfield Business Journal here.
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