Oregon Aquarium bringing puffins, hands-on exhibits to SE McLoughlin site
Ammon Covino stops by the old Black Angus Steakhouse building on Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard each month to check on the progress of the for-profit Oregon Aquarium he is installing.
Inside, the 11,000-square-foot building still looks like an old restaurant, except for the holding tanks set up for a couple hammerheads and stingrays from Florida that are supposed to arrive in the next couple weeks.
It’s a lot of progress for a building that Covino claimed in July might not even be the site he and his brother Vince Covino chose for the hands-on aquarium geared toward children. Since then, they secured a lease to the building and are hoping to open by the end of year.
Ammon Covino said he wanted the aquarium to be operational by November, but filed for permits from Clackamas County later than he wanted. Once he secures the permits, it takes only a couple months to bring in the animals and make sure they are healthy and ready for display.
“In 90 days, this can be a full-fledged aquarium ready to go,” he said.
In the meantime, his crew are stripping the wood paneling from the walls, tearing down the track lighting because most of the light will come from within the tanks and starting to build the tanks and decoration.
The building, at 16323 S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard in Oak Grove, sits on two acres and went through several incarnations of restaurant and strip club. Now it has a bright blue roof and a sign is ready to be installed.
Covino makes sure to mention that most of the people he hires are from the Portland area, such as the sign designer and most of the construction crew.
The aquarium’s prospective general manager, Steve Blair, comes from the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif., where he was assistant curator. He will start with the Oregon Aquarium at the end of August.
They plan to hire about 20 marine specialists full-time from the Portland area.
Whispers of a new aquarium began circulating after a website with the name Oregon Aquarium went live. At the time, Covino said it was too early to say the aquarium was a done deal.
The Covinos are rewarding the Facebook supporters by randomly giving out a season pass each day for the next 30 days to people who “like” the page.Neighbors were excited, though, expressing support on social media and “liking” the aquarium’s Facebook page.
Season passes are also 50 percent off for the next couple months, and are available on the website.
Covino expects to draw upwards of 30,000 visitors per month.
In Idaho, Covino and his crew struggled to find a site and lease. Despite early setbacks, the Covinos say the Idaho Aquarium has become successful, drawing about 25,000 visitors per month, including school groups and researchers.
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“It’ll help rejuvenate this area,” Ammon Covino said, saying with a Wal-Mart to the north on McLoughlin Boulevard and the aquarium, it might bring more businesses to the strip.
Planned exhibits and features:
- As you walk in the door, a cold-water tank with fish you might find off the Oregon coast will be housed in an old boat. Behind it, will be another boat facade with canons, a movable helm and a deck.
- Blair, the general manager, is an expert in jellyfish, so the aquarium will feature a large jellyfish exhibit. “That’s going to be something that’s unique to here that you can only get at big aquariums in the country,” Covino said.
- Warm-water tanks and tide pools with tropical fish, such as flounders and starfish, and sea anemones (they only sting other fish). “So they can see the different between the warm water of Hawaii and the cold water of Oregon,” Covino said. “And so they can put their little hands in there as long as they want without turning pink or blue.”
- Children can touch almost everything, except a few dangerous fish and sharks and a large kelp display.
- A rainforest room with birds that can be fed, with a 12-foot tree centerpiece built around one of the support columns scattered throughout the building.
- Large play area with slides and a jungle gym for children to play on. Right now, it’s in pieces in the middle of the building, but will be in the rainforest room. “It’s like you see in McDonald’s, but better,” Covino said.
- Puffin room, chilled to about 50 degrees. Kids will be able to feed the birds.