Audubon Aquarium of the Americas has been inspiring and educating guests about the wonders of marine life since 1990. In 2020, Audubon announced it would be moving Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium from the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street to the Aquarium campus on the river, building a combined experience that re-envisions Audubon’s downtown guest experience and educational programming. This project is currently underway and is a crucial element of the revitalization of Canal Street at the Mississippi River.
“The result will be a transformation of the 30-year-old Aquarium facility into a dynamic, cutting-edge attraction in keeping with the revitalized Canal Street riverfront — an iconic location that will play a significant role in post-COVID tourism,” said President and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute Ron Forman. “The renovated Aquarium will join two new luxury hotels, a new ferry terminal, restaurants, and additional public amenities to create an unparalleled destination celebrating the connection between New Orleans and the Mississippi River.”
Audubon’s goal is to complete construction during the tourism industry’s post-COVID recovery period while visitation is lower than average and operational impacts will be minimized. The project is expected to be completed in 2023 and will include approximately 17,000 square feet of new exhibit space constructed inside the existing walls of the Aquarium as well as 2,500 square feet of the existing Aquarium breezeway space that will be enclosed to create a shared public lobby.
The entrance into the Aquarium will be moved downriver, redirecting guest flow and feature a multi-story bird-safe glass curtain wall and monumental stairway. Insectarium exhibit galleries, including a Butterfly Pavilion, will be relocated to the building’s second floor.
There are several new experiences that incorporate technology and exhibitry that will complement many of the Insectarium’s galleries.
Images courtesy of Audubon Nature Institute.
New and reimagined galleries in the space will include:
- Butterfly Pavilion – Fluttering wings and dancing colors surround visitors in this butterfly garden. An array of butterfly species fly unrestricted among the live butterfly host plants. As they move from one nectar-rich flower to another, the butterflies may even come to rest briefly on a visitor’s shoulder.
- WOW! – Guests will enjoy a constantly changing interactive experience that immerses them in changing natural environments.
- Pollinators – The exhibit area focuses on the continuously developing relationship between flowering plants and insects as one of nature’s most interesting tales. Each influenced the evolution of the other over millions of years.
- Healthy Soil – Insects form a critical link in the food chain. In this gallery, visitors learn how their feeding activities play important roles in waste decomposition, nutrient recycling, pollination, and natural pest control.
- Bug Bayou – In New Orleans and coastal Louisiana, there are marvelous insects and spiders, many of which visitors may never have seen before. This immersion environment explores the complex web of life that exists in the swamps of Louisiana.
Insectarium galleries making the move include:
- Field Camp – Illustrates how researchers constantly uncover new insect species. A themed demonstration area allows visitors to touch live insects and participate in educational presentations, while puzzles, videos, and other activity stations teach visitors about the insect classification system.
- Bug Appétit – Eating insects isn’t odd—it’s done the world over— and in New Orleans, it’s bound to be tasty! This cultural café gives visitors a place to satisfy their appetites and learn some of these stories from humanity’s cultural interaction with insects.
- Metamorphosis – Guests will explore on their own, or through interaction with staff, the intriguing and mysterious journey that an insect takes from an egg to an adult.
- Diversity – About 80% of all animal species we know of are arthropods. That means four out of every five kinds of animals on the planet are bugs. This area allows visitors to explore some of the physical adaptations that have made insects so stunningly successful.
Several existing Aquarium galleries will also be upgraded to improve the aesthetic flow between the two experiences. These gallery upgrades include, but are not limited to, the Mississippi River Gallery, the Amazon Rainforest Gallery, Parakeet Pointe, and the Top of the Gulf Experience. The Sea Otter experience at the Aquarium will also be undergoing repairs and improvement.
Images courtesy of Audubon Nature Institute.
This extensive facility renovation also involves the removal of the Entergy Giant Screen Theater as well as significant upgrades to mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, audiovisual and security systems. The theater space will be split into two floors with the first floor being a unique special events space and the second being part of the new Insectarium space.
Improvements to Woldenberg Park will also take place during this time. Created in 1989, this signature New Orleans greenspace is a gateway to both the Aquarium and the Mississippi. Improvements ranging from redesigned landscaping to upgraded electrical infrastructure will make the Park both more beautiful for everyday visitors and more efficient as a venue for major festivals and performances. Congressman Troy Carter helped to secure a grant in support of Park improvements, and the Goldring Family and Woldenberg Foundations also generously donated towards Park enhancements.
The Aquarium renovation costs $34 million and $7 million more to upgrade the entrances, landscaping, and electrical system at Woldenberg Park next door. The majority of the renovation will be funded by bonds sold by the Audubon Commission. Additional funding will come from Audubon Nature Institute fundraising and public grants from city, state, and federal sources. Building the project now supports the strategy of having new attractions open when people are ready to travel again in 2024.
For this revitalization, Audubon is working closely with general contractor Broadmoor LLC Construction, architectural firm Eskew Dumez Ripple, and exhibition design and media firms CambridgeSeven and Cortina Productions.
Forman added, “Audubon is looking forward to its next chapter, creating an experience that illuminates visitor’s relationship with the natural world and how their actions can do a world of good.”