Audubon Unveils Plans for Combined Aquarium, Insectarium

Entry Wow
In the new 'WOW!' gallery, Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium guests will 'enjoy a beautiful, constantly changing interactive experience that immerses them in changing natural environments.' (Renderings provided by the Audubon Nature Institute)

Lobby Entry2NEW ORLEANS  — Work is underway at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, where a $34 million renovation will convert the old IMAX movie theater space into the new home of the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. It’s the most ambitious upgrade of the attraction since it opened in 1990.

The insectarium, formerly located in the U.S. Custom House at 423 Canal Street, closed its doors during the pandemic. At that time, the Audubon Nature Institute, which operates both facilities, announced plans to make a home for the bugs next to the fish at the foot of Canal.

Audubon said it is spending $34 million on the interior renovation and an additional $7 million to upgrade entrances, landscaping and electrical systems in the adjacent Woldenberg Park. 

That money will buy approximately 17,000 square feet of new exhibit space constructed inside the existing walls of the Aquarium as well as an additional 2,500 square feet of the existing Aquarium breezeway space that will be enclosed. Plans call for the Aquarium entrance to move downriver. Insectarium exhibit galleries, including a butterfly pavilion, will be relocated to the building’s second floor. New technology-fueled exhibits will enhance the insectarium’s popular galleries.

“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 Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO Ron Forman in a press release. “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 said the majority of the renovation will be funded by bonds sold by the Audubon Commission. Additional funding will come from fundraising and grants.

Conceptual Lobby View Of StairsBroadmoor LLC Construction is the project’s general contractor. Eskew Dumez Ripple is the architect. CambridgeSeven, from Masschussetts, and Virginia-based Cortina Productions are providing exhibition design services.

Audubon said it expects the project to be complete in 2023 and it will be business as usual at the Aquarium during the renovation.

“At this time there is no set timeline for an Aquarium closure,” said Annie Matherne, the Institute’s director of public relations. “If this changes we will be sure to update the public accordingly.”

And, in case anyone was wondering, the short life span of insects in general means there wasn’t a need to set up temporary housing after Audubon shut down the Canal Street attraction, which had been operational since 2008.

“We do house some of our insects at our Insect Rearing Facility and others, when the Insectarium was closed, were given to other Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facilities,” said Matherne. “The Insect Rearing Facility, an offsite lab for breeding insects, is currently located at a New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control lab in New Orleans East (next to Michoud). We are currently relocating those functions to the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species on the West Bank, within the campus of the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center located near English Turn.”

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