NELSON Mandela Bay‘s historic and most widely recognised tourist attraction may yet be saved from being forced to close its most popular draw-cards – Bayworld‘s aquarium and eco-tourism facilities.
Under a new rescue plan, Bayworld could even become a serious rival to the likes of Durban‘s uShaka Marine World and the Two Oceans Aquarium on Cape Town‘s waterfront by 2015, officials say.
This follows an agreement between the municipality and the provincial Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture – which is in charge of Bayworld – to allow the city to take a more hands-on approach to managing the run-down facility, in particular the aquarium, penguin rehabilitation centre and snake park.
The Herald reported last month that the Bay‘s sport, recreation, arts and cultural services committee had been briefed on plans to decommission Bayworld‘s biggest crowd- pullers, including the currently dolphin-free dolphin lake – used, since Domino and Dumisa were sent to Hong Kong‘s Ocean Park in 2009, for seal shows instead – and the relocation of its other aquatic animals.
Shortly after the decommissioning plans were revealed, the executive director of the municipality‘s economic development and recreational services unit, Zolile Siswana, intervened. After getting the go-ahead from the department, he instructed the city‘s urban renewal arm, the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), to draw up a rescue plan.
The MDBA has already successfully upgraded parts of the city‘s CBD, including Govan Mbeki Avenue, the Donkin Reserve and Parliament Street.
It will now draw up a plan for Bayworld, which MBDA head Pierre Voges said would include plans to redevelop the entire complex, apart from the museum which still falls under the province. Previous plans pegged redevelopment at about R100-million.
The MDBA will then approach national and international aid agencies – from US-AID to the National Lottery – to fund the redevelopment on the basis that it will be an educational and science research facility.
Voges said the MDBA would then appoint an operator to manage Bayworld as a private enterprise, as happened with the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
“It will take maybe two years for the reconstruction and transfer. A new Bayworld could see the light in maybe three years,” Voges said yesterday.
Siswana said “a new beginning” had arisen from the historic complex‘s deterioration.
“We are looking at a plan for an entire redevelopment. Our interest as a metro is really the aquarium and the eco-tourism interests,” he said.
“We recognise the value of Bayworld, so we want the MBDA to gear in the private sector for its redevelopment. We are open to it being privately operated.”
The provincial department‘s senior manager for museums and heritage, Similo Grootboom, said the agreement would enable the department and the municipality “to work together for the betterment of Bayworld”.
Ward 2 councillor Dean Biddulph (DA), whose ward includes Bayworld, praised the move, saying Voges was passionate about getting the dolphins back. “He is adamant that one of the first things that needs to be done is to bring the dolphins back,” he said.