OPINION – by Jessica Pollack (McCormick Divers Booster Club President)
As posted on www.lbreport.com
After years of patching, wrangling, and making do, the City of Long Beach finally has to come to terms with the need to rebuild the aging Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Twelve years ago, the City entertained plans to demolish the pool to build a state-of-the-art facility. Then, following the 9/11 attack in New York City, those plans were put on hold. Again in 2005, another plan was discussed, but never materialized. The facility has limped along, but now cannot continue operating.
Costs have sky-rocketed and resources have dwindled, causing Long Beach Officials to consider a severely scaled down facility. Sadly, aquatic sports experts throughout the Southland agree that the attempt to save money will cost the City dearly in lost revenue, lost opportunity and lost support from the Aquatic and local community.
Built in 1968 for the Olympic Trials, the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool has been a jewel in the Long Beach Aquatic Sports Crown. It is the only indoor facility with a full range of diving springboards and platforms in California. It has been the home to Olympians, International, National and Local Champions. Throughout the years, it has been the site of prestigious swimming, diving, and waterpolo events. It was the home of the CIF Swimming and Diving Masters Championships until the last year of that competition when it moved to Irvine. It has been the host of NCAA PAC-10 and just cancelled as host of the 2013 NCAA PAC-12 Championships. It has also forfeited income from the new ABC Television Reality Series, “Splash” that has been tremendously popular in England and Germany.
Like many locations throughout Long Beach, the Belmont Plaza facility has been the location for television and movie shoots including the television shows House (FOX), Zeke and Luther (Nickelodeon), So You Think You Can Dive (Comedy Central), Community (NBC), films including Angels and Demons, and this summer’s Olympics VISA commercial featuring Olympic Gold Medalist, David Boudia.
Experts agree that the best scenario would be to build a world-class, facility accommodating top swimming, diving, waterpolo and synchronized swim teams with competitive facilities able to attract popular local, regional, national and even international competitions. Such a facility could be a true destination facility with weight-rooms and exercise facilities to serve community memberships as well as the competitive teams who call Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool home. If properly built, the facilities can easily accommodate teams from all traditional competitive aquatic sports as well as lessons, water-exercise classes and recreational use. There is precedent for such destination, competitive and recreational facilities in the U.S. in places like Indiana, Texas and Washington and around the world at facilities like those in the major cities of Australia and the home of the 2012 Olympics in London.
The ability to attract top competitions like national and international events not only increases income to the facility, but to the entire surrounding community. Unlike the Olympics in which athletes are sequestered in official housing, annual Regional, Sectional, Zone, State, National and International competitors need local accommodations, food and of course, school age and young adult competitors and their families would be remiss if they missed the opportunity to visit the tremendous number of local tourist attractions when visiting Southern California. Even a “small” event like a Regional Diving Competition attracts competitors from Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and more requiring more than 100 otherwise unused hotel rooms, hundreds of visits to local attractions and thousands of meals. This pales by comparison to National and International swimming events.
However, in attempts to save money, Long Beach facility planners are all but cutting the life out of any possibility for the proposed Belmont Shore pool to make money. With a design similar to currently non-competition and under-used facilities like those at Martin Luther King Park and Silverado Park, the City is all but writing the death warrant for the once pride of Long Beach Aquatic Sports Facilities of Belmont Shore. Because they lack appropriate facilities for competitive sports, these other facilities close full days every week.
The proposed design revealed to Aquatic Sports representatives Monday would not allow for prestigious competitive events relegating the new Belmont Plaza Pool to an overpriced, under-used swimming pool with a beautiful beach view. Local businesses can kiss good-bye any hopes of gaining any residual income from the facility since local users are not likely to spend any more than they currently spend at local vendors. Plus, if the facility is not amenable to top aquatic uses beyond recreational swimming, those attracted to Long Beach because it had the only indoor competitive facility will join teams in communities away from Long Beach.
The news about the doomed Belmont Shore pool has sparked very passionate grass-roots backing from aquatic sports supporters interested in working with the City to assure that all sports are represented and able to make the best use of the new facility. Groups of avid aquatic sports enthusiasts would love to help the City with planning, fund-raising, whatever is needed to make the new facility as successful as possible.
The City of Long Beach is hosting a public informational meeting about its plans on Wednesday, February 6 at 6pm at LaPalapa Restaurant located at the doomed Belmont Plaza location at 4000 E Olympic Plaza on Belmont Shores in Long Beach. Passionate aquatic sports participants are expected to attend voicing their strong distaste for the current facility plans.