Featured Story

Long Island Aquarium, facing deficit amid economic slowdown, seeks installment plan from IDA

The Long Island Aquarium in downtown Riverhead is facing a 56% deficit compared to last year, according to Bryan DeLuca, the executive director of Atlantis Holdings, the company that owns the aquarium, the Hyatt hotel and several other downtown attractions.

The deficit comes about due to state requirements that the aquarium remain closed for much of the year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Unlike other businesses that can simply close, the aquarium must still feed and care for the animals it houses.

Mr. DeLuca made a presentation before the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency Monday and is asking that agency to work out a monthly installment payment plan to pay off a $117,000 payment in lieu of taxes that was part of a 10-year tax incentive plan the IDA granted to Atlantis in 2016.

The total amount of the PILOT is about $356,000 per year, Mr. DeLuca said.

“We are not asking for a reduction,” Mr. DeLuca said, although he did ask that any penalties and fees be waived.

The Aquarium is now open but is only allowed to operate at 25% capacity, Mr. DeLuca said.

As a result, the aquarium revenue is down by 53% over last year, which is several million dollars, he said.

Attendance is down by 56%, more than 100,000 fewer people, according to Mr. DeLuca.

Likewise, the catering business is down by 84%, or more than $1 million, he said. Sponsorships are down by 66%.

“So, total, we are running at a 56% deficit, which is in the millions of dollars short of where we were last year,” he said.

Catering has been difficult because the state puts a 50-person limit on events and that impacts the adjacent Hyatt hotel, which normally books many weddings and other events, Mr. DeLuca said.

“We postponed about 75% of our weddings into the following year, but we definitely lost 20% to 25% of the weddings, returning deposits as well, so that was another financial impact for us.”

Atlantis used all of the PPP funding it received for payroll only.

“We did not use it on our interest on our bank loans or our utilities, gas or electric, we used it solely for our payroll, and the main thrust of that was for the animal care staff,” Mr. DeLuca said. “The day we closed, on March 16 or 17, in some regards, nothing changed for our animal care staff and the operation, tending to the animals’ dietary needs, tending to their life support system, food and habitat support.”

No one on the aquarium staff caught the virus, he said.

School trips are another area in which the aquarium is impacted, Mr. DeLuca said.

“We would normally do 50,000 to 60,000 school children from field trips.”

The Hyatt is running about 55% occupancy this year, and last year, at the end of August, they were at 77%, Mr. DeLuca said. Revenues there are also down about $1 million.

Mr. DeLuca said they are working with banks to determine a payment plan.

“Your survival is critical for downtown,” said Tracy Stark James, the executive director of the IDA.

“We will talk about what we can do,” IDA chair Tom Cruso said.