“You’ve got to have a reason to come to a city,” Dean Arnold said. 

For more than 700,000 visitors, that reason is the Tennessee Aquarium, allowing the city to rake in millions of dollars each year. 

Arnold watched the aquarium transform downtown Chattanooga into what it is today. He’s even written a book about how it all happened called “Old Money New South.” 

“You would never believe what Chattanooga has become. That building has become an absolute key part of the process and if you had to point to one event that’s been the key moment, you’d have to say building that aquarium,” he said. 

For the first time, we’re getting a look at just how much of an impact the aquarium has on Hamilton County’s economy through a study by the University of  Tennessee Center of Sustainable Business and Development. 

It found the annual economic impact tops more than $101 million. 

Tennessee Aquarium President Charlie Arant believes those numbers are part of a ripple effect. 

“They can bring their family, they can have a nice day, they can have a nice meal, stay in a nice hotel in a safe part of town and enjoy themselves,” he added. 

Countless hotels, restaurants and attractions have popped up around the aquarium in the 23 years it’s been open. 

And with new exhibits every year, Arant says it’s another reason for visitors to keep coming back. 

“We have to keep the aquarium fresh and new. We try to do new exhibits if not every year, certainly every other year so we have something new to attract people to Chattanooga,” he said.

Read the full study HERE

For more about Old Money New South, click HERE.