Maybe it’s the blue water. Maybe it’s the sounds of the crowd. Maybe it’s the scent of chlorine. Whatever its secret ingredient is, swimming continues to be one of the most popular sports to watch at the Olympic level and it doesn’t lose any excitement with the trickle-down effect – youth swim programs are as busy as they’ve ever been. And by building on the amenities competitive swimmers need, venues are continuing to find success.
Initially built in 1991 as a training destination for college and university swim teams, the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex in South Florida has evolved into a premier competitive facility that hosts international-level swimming and diving meets, water polo competitions and synchronized swimming events.
“Once people realized what we had, things started taking off on the competition side,” says aquatics manager Jay Walsh. “We’ve been bringing in high-level competition and training groups for about the past 18 years.”
Marketed as a one-stop shop for teams’ needs, the facility boasts a 50-meter competition pool and a 25-meter FINA-designed pool, plus a separate diving well with a full set of platforms and 1- and 3-meter springboards and acclimation pool. A 7,500-square-foot fitness center and full-service swim shop also are on the premises. Deck seating can accommodate up to 800 spectators, and additional seating for another 800 is available for larger events. The 50-meter pool recently was renovated to make it a foot deeper all the way around, thus helping suppress waves and creating a faster pool.
The complex’s event resume includes the first edition of the UANA (Amateur Swimming Union of the Americas) Swimming Cup in 2018, as well as the 2018 AAU Diving Red-White-Blue National Championship, the annual South Florida International Water Polo Tournament and USA Synchronized Swimming’s Novice, Intermediate and 12-U Age Group Worldwide Invitational. The facility also is the water polo venue during the Sunshine State Games, and it will host the 2019 YMCA National Diving Championship. Also worth noting is that the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex was the first U.S. facility to host an event on the Finswimming World Cup circuit.
“We like hosting new events,” Walsh says. “We were definitely happy to bring in teams from all over the world for the finswimming competition. Word is spreading about what we’re doing.”
Coral Springs might be one of America’s best-kept secrets when it comes to competitive aquatics destinations, but just about everyone in the swimming and diving world seems to know about the Indiana University Natatorium, built in 1982 and still considered one of the fastest pools in the country.
In 2016, the facility underwent a $20 million renovation that included enhanced interior design and widening of the diving tower, as well as a new roof, heating and cooling system, pool deck, pool filtration system, lighting, skylights, bulkheads and starting blocks. Other improvements included new doors, windows and drywall in the east and west concourses, an expanded pro shop, modernized locker rooms and other mechanical repairs.
An additional $10 million was spent updating the venue’s parking and exterior access points, according to Ryan Vaughn, president of the Indiana Sports Corp.
“Sports — and Olympic and college sports, in particular — are part of our city’s brand and its economy,” Vaughn says. “There were discussions about whether the facility had outlived its usefulness, and we quickly realized that it had not. It’s still one of the fastest pools in the world, and it still has the ability to attract top talent. I refer to it as the Yankee Stadium of pools, because some really incredible Olympic and NCAA championship moments have occurred there.”
More than 100 records have been set in the eight-lane, 50-meter competition pool and diving well, including 18 world records. The venue holds 4,700 spectators with another 1,500 people on the deck, making the IU Natatorium the largest permanent swimming competition facility in the country.
Events on the venue’s 2019 schedule include the NCAA Division II Championships and USA Swimming Speedo Sectionals in March, the World Series of Para Swimming in April and the USA Diving Senior Nationals in May. Then, in 2020, the IU Natatorium will host the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for diving for the seventh time.
Making a Splash
Hosting successful high-profile aquatics events requires the tireless involvement of local clubs and volunteers who help meets, tournaments and other competitions run effectively and efficiently. It also helps if you have a wow-factor facility.
Consider the spacious Kunkel Aquatic Center at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The 21,000-square-foot natatorium houses the 50-meter-by-25-yard McGinness Pool — site of the annual Centennial Conference Swimming Championships, the Middle Atlantic Junior Olympic Long Course Championships and the New Jersey YMCA 13 & Over State Championships. That’s right: New Jersey.
“The location of the facility is perfect, because we can pull from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and even Washington, D.C. The pool’s popularity is all word of mouth,” says Chris Ackerman, director of sales for Discover Lancaster and the parent of a former swimmer. “I’ve been to many aquatic facilities, and the cleanliness and aesthetics of this facility have a ‘wow’ effect. There’s no way you would think the venue was built in 1996.”
Another older facility that’s still going strong is the Holland (Michigan) Community Aquatic Center, which opened in 1969 and added a competition 50-meter, eight-lane pool with two 1-meter and two 3-meter diving boards and spectator seating for 600 in 1998. The venue has hosted state high school championships, NCAA Division III championships and USA Swimming events.
And city officials aren’t done yet. They hope to build a new 15,000-square-foot community recreational and wellness area; currently, that space is adjacent to the competition pool. By moving those components to their own area, and repurposing the existing space, the natatorium will be able to accommodate larger and more high-profile events, according to Jack Huisingh, executive director of the Holland Community Aquatic Center.
“Our ultimate goal is to run two meets at the same time in that natatorium,” he says. “We recognize we need to keep improving to be successful. We want to become one of the top destinations in the United States for mid- to upper-level competition, while at the same time balancing our community’s recreational and instructional needs.”
A key component of the sprawling Greensboro (North Carolina) Coliseum Complex is the Greensboro Aquatic Complex, which is undergoing an $8.2 million expansion that will result in the addition of a fourth pool. The project will bring eight more long-course lanes (or 19 short-course lanes), with room on one side of the deck to accommodate up to four units of tip-and-roll bleachers.
The newest pool will primarily serve local high school and club teams, according to Susan Braman, manager of the facility affectionately known as the GAC, adding that the new pool will prevent local teams from being displaced when the facility hosts meets in the GAC’s 50-meter stretch competition pool that is 25 yards wide with eight long-course lanes and up to 22 short-course lanes. The complex also houses a 25-yard warm-up/cool-down teaching and therapeutic pool with six swimming lanes and 25-yard diving well with six swimming lanes and eight diving apparatus.
The renovation is slated for completion by mid-2019, as the facility gears up for a busy year. Scheduled events include the 2019 Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, the 2019 NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving National Championships and the 2019 AAU Junior Olympic Games. And in 2021, the GAC will host the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving National Championships. Braman says she hope to eventually bring the FINA World Championships to Greensboro.
About 200 miles to the southwest of Greensboro is another aquatic facility that also hosts plenty of competitions — and is looking for more. The Greenville County (South Carolina) Aquatic Complex boasts a 20-lane, 25-yard-by-50-meter competition pool with seating for 1,000 spectators.
Formerly known as the Westside Aquatic Complex, the facility recently underwent a name change, and in 2011 was the first in the country to install the Paddock Evacuator chloramine evacuation system to create a more pleasant pool environment for swimmers and spectators, according to Robin Wright, senior sales manager for sports for VisitGreenvilleSC.
“That smell of chlorine in some pools can knock you down and sitting for hours in a natatorium isn’t great for your health,” Wright says, adding that the installation of the Evacuator made the facility more appealing to local swim clubs and groups looking to bring in USA Swimming Zone and U.S. Masters Swimming Zone events, as well as synchronized swimming, triathlons, water polo and kayaking competitions.
Wright admits that seating options have limited the magnitude of events the Greenville County Aquatic Complex can host, but she adds there is room on the property for expansion. “If that happens, there will be no limit to what we can host, except the Olympic Trials,” Wright says. “We are able to host some really significant meets, but there would be more opportunities for us if the facility was a little larger.”
If you’re looking for outdoor pool options, consider Florida’s Treasure Coast — a region that boasts three competitive facilities along the state’s central Atlantic Coast.
The Sailfish Splash Aquatic Center in Stuart boasts an Olympic-size, FINA-compliant pool that supports USA Swimming and NCAA short-course and long course swimming and diving. It features two 3-meter and two 1-meter diving boards with a 13.5-foot diving well, and a 25-yard warm-up pool — making it ideal for college teams to use for winter training, state high school swimming and diving meets, Masters swimming events, water polo, synchronized swimming and more.
Meanwhile, the North County Aquatic Center in Sebastian, with 18 lanes and a movable bulkhead, has hosted swimming competitions for Special Olympics Florida, and the Anne Wilder Aquatic Complex at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce hosted the 2018 National Junior College Athletic Association Swimming and Diving National Championships.
Each facility can accommodate between 800 and 3,000 spectators (including temporary seating), according to Rick Hatcher, executive director of the Treasure Coast Sports Commission in Port St. Lucie. “All three are capable of hosting major competitions,” Hatcher says. “It just depends on the event owner and what they’re looking for.”
The University of Tennessee is home to the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center, which is helping elevate Knoxville’s status as a high-profile aquatics destination. In January, the facility — which includes a 50-meter competition pool and a separate competition diving well with five platforms and heights varying from 1 to 10 meters, and permanent spectator seating for 1,800 — was the first stop on the star-studded 2019 TYR Pro Swim Series.
“I got to see Katie Ledecky swim this morning,” Chad Culver, senior director of the Visit Knoxville Sports Commission, said on the day Sports Destination Management caught up with him. “You’re not going to get much bigger than hosting the TYR Pro Series.”
Indeed, the 2019 TYR Pro Swim Series marked the first time USA Swimming selected its events via a request for proposal and bid process. The highly-competitive process yielded many submissions from communities across the county. The series consists of six stops from January through November, and the three-and-a-half-day meets are televised on the NBC Sports Network and the Olympic Channel, as well as livestreamed at usaswimming.org.
This summer, the Allan Jones facility will host the 2019 USA Diving Junior National Championships, and it will welcome the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in 2020 and 2021.
“This pool has opened up the door for us to host national events,” Culver says. “And we want those events to be good, because they help us build our stature.” SDM