Great Lakes Aquarium today announced that Jack LaVoy, executive director, will retire effective June 30, 2017. His leadership and advocacy for the past decade helped transform the Aquarium into the number one paid attraction in Duluth, Minnesota and a widely respected resource for freshwater education.
LaVoy, a former state lawmaker, economic development leader and industry executive, began his career at the Aquarium in November of 2007 following the departure of management company Ripley’s Entertainment. It was a pivotal time for Great Lakes Aquarium which was experiencing lagging attendance numbers and exhibits in various states of disrepair. LaVoy called it “the greatest challenge of his professional career”. In less than ten years’ time, income and memberships have doubled and attendance has climbed more than 50%.
The Aquarium has enjoyed two consecutive attendance record-setting years and is on track for a third, and is on pace to exceed 150,000 visitors in 2017. Facility upgrades, major, new exhibits such as Shipwrecks Alive! in 2014 and Unsalted Seas in 2016, and the opening of the Discovery Center classrooms and event space helped fuel the turnaround. LaVoy played a prominent role in conceiving, fundraising and completing these critical projects.
Duluth mayors, past and present, have praised LaVoy for his leadership in guiding the Aquarium through troubled waters to its current state as a valued attraction and educational facility in the city.
“Jack LaVoy saved the Great Lakes Aquarium,” said former mayor Don Ness. “This is a bold statement, but it’s well earned. Through vision, dedication, persistence, and a deep and abiding commitment to the mission, Jack orchestrated a remarkable turnaround. His quiet, unassuming nature should not lead us to overlook the enormity of his accomplishment.”
“Jack is an extraordinary leader, and his ability to navigate the challenges he inherited has been impressive,” said Duluth Mayor Emily Larson. “As Mayor I have had full confidence in him and his team. In addition to being the right person at the right time to lead the Aquarium into a new chapter, he is a simply wonderful person. He cares for his staff, developing talent from within, and brings a truly collaborative spirit to all he does. I am so happy for him and his success, but I will truly miss working with him. He has been a dear friend to me.”
LaVoy is leaving the Aquarium on its most solid financial footing since the attraction’s opening in the year 2000. An executive team comprised of select Great Lakes Aquarium board members and community leaders is heading the national search for LaVoy’s replacement.
While LaVoy says he looks forward to more time with his family at his home on Pike Lake, he is confident he is leaving the Aquarium on solid footing with continued growth and development in its future.
“Now is the right time to turn over the reins,” said LaVoy. “I inherited some incredibly talented people to help make our turnaround such a success. We have a great team in place and I am looking forward to passing the baton.”