Virginia Town Ready to Make Big Splash in Swimming
2 Apr, 2019
Chesterfield will host several hundred of the world’s best swimmers next year for a TYR Pro Series event – perhaps the county’s biggest splash yet in a sports tourism sector that pumps millions of dollars into the local economy annually.
U.S. National Team members, Junior National Team members and top-50 world-ranked swimmers are expected to compete April 10-13, 2019, at the SwimRVA indoor aquatics center located near the intersection of Chippenham Parkway and Iron Bridge Road.
Adam Kennedy, executive director of SwimRVA, a Chesterfield-based nonprofit that owns and operates the 54,000-square-foot facility, called last week’s announcement “historic” not only for the county, but also the region and state.
“It’s affirmation of the decades of work that has been going on across the region – from our summer leagues to our YMCA system to our swimming clubs that have made such an impact on so many people’s lives, athletes who have gone on to compete at the highest levels in the sport,” he said.
According to Danielle Vincenti with Richmond Region Tourism, USA Swimming received bids from 15 localities seeking to host one of the six 2019 TYR Pro Series events. “I think the unique thing about the Richmond region winning a bid is last year, all of the events except for one were held at college campuses, and large ones at that: Austin, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Columbus,” she said. “This is a standalone swim facility, but USA Swimming saw the passion and partnership opportunities here and that helped sell them.”
The Richmond area long has been a hotbed for youth swimming. An estimated 10,000 children participate in one of five summer swim leagues. Thousands more swim for competitive year-round clubs, such as Chesterfield-based Quest and Poseidon, and YMCA sponsored teams across the region.
A coalition of sports boosters, community leaders and corporate officials led a multi-year fundraising effort that culminated in construction of the $14 million SwimRVA aquatics center in 2012.
The facility features a 50-meter, eight-lane competition pool that was used in the 2008 Olympic Trials, during which nine world records and 21 American records were broken.
SwimRVA bought the pool and had it shipped from Omaha, Nebraska, to be installed in the new aquatics center.
“We look forward to seeing how many more records can be broken in this pool,” said Bobby Ukrop, president of SwimRVA’s board of directors.
Kennedy predicted many Olympic swimmers will compete in the Chesterfield event as part of their preparations for the 2019 world championships. The meet will be televised on NBC
Sports Network, with the prize purse expected to be $300,000.
“This will be the fastest, highest-level swimming competition in the commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.
Rita McClenny, chief executive of the Virginia Tourism Corp., noted that tourism is a $25 billion industry in the commonwealth and produces about 300,000 jobs annually. Sports tourism accounts for about 10 percent of that economic activity.
Richmond Region Tourism estimates that sports tourism generated $41 million in economic impact for Chesterfield in fiscal year 2018 – an increase of nearly $2.4 million over the prior year – and about $1.5 million in local tax revenue.
Premier facilities, such as RiverCity Sportsplex and the SwimRVA aquatics center, have been critical to the county’s success, Vincenti said.
“We’re successfully competing against some of the finest venues across the country as we continue our momentum to make Chesterfield the place for sports tournaments,” added James Worsley, director of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department.
SwimRVA has proven it can successfully conduct a major swimming competition – having already served multiple times as host site for the USA Swimming Eastern Zone meet, which brings elite youth swimmers to Chesterfield from up and down the Atlantic coast.
It will host that meet again in 2019, as well as the U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championship in August 2020.
“Chesterfield is punching above its weight with this facility,” Kennedy said. “[USA Swimming] normally might look for 3,000 seats. We have 700. But they’re excited because they know this is going to be a sellout with crazy fans that are going to go nuts over this. They know it’s a great market and a great place to be.”