Idaho Aquarium gets new director, new path forward

Credit: Matt Standal / KTVB

Nancy Vannorsdel

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by Matt Standal

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBMatt

KTVB.COM

Posted on November 4, 2013 at 5:16 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 4 at 6:14 PM

Idaho Aquarium

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BOISE -- The new interim director of the Idaho Aquarium is trying to keep the embattled nonprofit from going belly up.

Nancy Vannorsdel is the former director of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. She's only been on the job for three weeks, but Vannorsdel already has plans to boost attendance, make the aquarium profitable, and change its murky image.

She wants to make it all happen in about five short months.

"The first thing I did here was spend time looking at the background, the credentials," Vannorsdel told KTVB, saying she wanted to make sure the facility's staff was qualified to be on the job.

The problem, says Vannorsdel, is one of negative publicity. Allegations of corruption and animal mistreatment followed the former director's arrest on federal charges for illegally buying marine life without proper permits. Several social media accounts allegedly operated by former employees also smeared the facility's reputation.

She says reports of mistreatment of the animals in the past is unfortunate, but feels confident in the staff's ability to properly care for them.

Vannorsdel also describes those negative events as having a "devastating" effect on aquarium attendance, causing visitor-ship to drop by 60 percent. She says that means the aquarium also currently isn't covering operating costs on day-to-day ticket sales, and is essentially operating on past revenue gains.

Her goal is to reverse those statistics.

The plan includes completing a new touch tank for the aquarium's sharks and stingrays, expanding the giant pacific octopus habitat, and creating overarching operating guidelines for the aquarium's future, including her eventual replacement.

Those changes also include boosting membership on the aquarium board of directors, taking total membership from 8 to 13.

"I want to bring in a couple very, very strong marine biologists to sit on the board, and I'm also looking for someone from the education world," Vannorsdel told KTVB.

Ultimately, Vannorsdel says the idea is to get the community to invest back into the aquarium so it can invest in the education and awareness of Idaho's people.

"When I leave, I want it to be the kind of organization that will attract a very strong, knowledgeable executive director to move it forward," she said.

Admission to the aquarium is $9 for adults and $6 for kids. You can visit the aquarium's website here.

Vanndorsdel answered questions from Dee and Carolyn on the News at Four. Watch it here:

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