This story was updated at 5:39 p.m. on Nov. 23, 2019, with more information.

The Tennessee Aquarium will outsource its retail, food and beverage operations and remodel its three gift shops in 2020 as part of an agreement with Event Network, an operator of retail services in the aquarium, zoo and museum world.

"Event Network prioritized interviewing and hiring members from our existing retail and food/beverage teams as they prepare to begin operations on January 21, 2020," said Aquarium CEO Keith Sanford. "In fact, all of the individuals who interviewed were offered positions with Event Network."

The Aquarium's current retail store manager was selected by Event Network to become the local store director, and he will oversee operations for both retail and food and beverage, Sanford said. The Aquarium's current concessions manager of food and beverage was selected by Event Network as their café assistant director, he said.

"There was nothing broken — the staff in place had done a really good job," said Aquarium spokesman Thom Benson. "But this partnership will give us some efficiencies. If you're a single vendor purchasing inventory for your gift shops, you don't have the buying power of a network like they have. We'll be their 15th aquarium."

Event Network also has a strong program for reducing the use of single-use plastic, which is a priority for the Aquarium, Benson said.

The hiring process isn't complete, so it's not clear how staffing levels in retail, food and beverage might be affected, Benson said. As of this week, the number of full-time employees hired by Event Network stands at seven and the number of part-time employees is at 14. The Aquarium has 14 full-time employees and 16 part-time employees in those roles, he said.

"Everyone remains an Aquarium employee until Event Network begins operations on Jan. 21," Benson said. "Not all staff members chose to interview, but we have since heard from a couple of individuals in food/beverage who are now planning to interview with Event Network."

The company's commitment to remodeling the Aquarium's three gift shops was a factor in the decision to contract with them, Benson added.

"That was a need, and we would get there at some point, but when someone says 'We'll do that for you,' that makes the package even more attractive," he said. "They have their own construction and design team — that's how big the operation is."

As a nonprofit, the Aquarium has an obligation to be a good steward of its resources, Sanford said.

"After evaluating our future needs and deliberating our choices, we negotiated a contract with Event Network that shows a strong potential to produce significantly more revenue that we can use to reinvest in our infrastructure, conservation work and education programs," he said.

Contact Mary Fortune at or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.