A 'difficult decision': Tennessee Aquarium laying off over 100 part-time employees due to coronavirus impact

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ The Tennessee Aquarium anchors the riverfront in this view looking west from a parking garage over Chestnut Street. RiverCity Co. is hiring consultants to help study ways to energize the riverfront from Fourth Street to the River, including Hawk Hill. The area was photographed on December 5, 2019.

For answers to frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, click here.

Downtown Chattanooga's Tennessee Aquarium, which temporarily closed last week, is laying off 112 of its part-time employees as the city's key tourist industry feels the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, Aquarium CEO Keith Sanford said in a letter to staff and volunteers that the Aquarium has had to re-assess its financial situation and the coronavirus crisis has caused historic "hardships" for the attraction.

"The timing of this emergency comes at the worst possible time of our business cycle," the letter said. "The spring break period is when we begin to re-build our cash reserves following the off-peak winter months."

(READ MORE: Tennessee Aquarium, Rock City, other Chattanooga attractions closing in coronavirus scare)

Sanford said that without revenue from admissions, "we have had to make some difficult decisions to ensure the organization's future stability. Myself, and all [vice presidents] and directors, took the first step by committing to a reduction in salary."

The Aquarium initially made the decision to close to the public from March 13-27, but the letter said it's unclear how long the riverfront attraction will remain closed due to the coronavirus.

The employees will be permanently laid off starting March 27 and were notified earlier Thursday. They will receive their final paychecks on April 3, according to Sanford's letter.

"Each individual was a valued part of our team and we deeply appreciate their service," the letter said. "Further, we hope they will reapply for open positions once it is safe to welcome guests back to the Aquarium."

Sanford said in the letter that the attraction's senior leadership team and board of trustees have been working to ensure the Aquarium makes it through the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. In the meantime, the Aquarium has set up an emergency operations fund to help support animal care and team members.