By Jessica Pollack
Will the City of Long Beach take advantage of a ONCE IN A GENERATION opportunity?
When completed in 1968, the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool was the premier aquatics facility in the country and a jewel for the City of Long Beach. Now that the pool has been condemned and is to be rebuilt, the City has a one-time opportunity to once again showcase our beautiful city to the rest of the world.
It is time now for the City of Long Beach to come through with its promise to provide a new world class, state-of-the-art aquatics facility, including a deep water diving pool, to replace the condemned Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, as the Long Beach City Council unanimously approved on February 12, 2013.
In its 45 years of active use from August 1968 through January 2013, the original Belmont pool lauded the finest athletes and coaches in aquatics. The most decorated Long Beach Olympian is a diver. Some have won two Olympic medals and Misty May Treanor has won three, but only one Long Beach aquatics athlete has won four Olympic Gold Medals – Pat McCormick with 4 Olympic Gold Medals in Diving. In addition, several of our local diving, swimming and water polo coaches served multiple times as Olympic coaches.
For a city proud to be acknowledged as The Aquatic Capital of America, it is important to include ALL of the aquatic sports represented in Olympic and other international competition: Swimming, Diving, Water Polo and Synchronized Swimming. Two of these aquatic sports (diving and synchronized swimming) require a deep-water pool as do several recreational uses such as Scuba lessons and deep-water aerobics. Diving is one of the four most watched Olympic sports and has a huge history in Long Beach, but the first (and currently only) sport the City is trying to eliminate in the new facility is diving. Sources close to city staff say this is because the projected cost for the design and construction keeps increasing. The original estimate when this was on the table last year was $54 million, a number that was increased to $62 million when the Council approved the addition of a separate deep-water pool. Now sources say the cost may approach double that figure.
Residents and City staff should understand that regardless of the final price tag, funding for the new Belmont aquatic facility will be provided by the Tidelands Fund. These monies come from oil operations (not local tax payers) and can only be spent for specified uses within the Tidelands zone. The Belmont Plaza Pool location is located within the Tidelands boundaries.
Swimming World Magazine reported after the February 12, 2013 Long Beach City Council meeting:
“A separate diving well containing 1 and 3-meter springboards, as well as a diving platform as high as 10 meters, was one of the conditions Councilman Gary DeLong laid out before the council voted.
‘This is a great day for Long Beach,’ DeLong said. ‘We are here tonight to approve creation of a world-class aquatic facility, and I’m confident that we will take that next step. I think the staff has made a great start here, but there are some improvements I think we can add. That will absolutely include a diving well indoors.’”
Long Beach businesses stand to gain millions of dollars in additional income from diving and other aquatic competitions in a destination facility that commands competitive prestige and multiple recreational program possibilities. The new facility will be prime for local, regional, national, international, high school and college events. Based on current attendance at the Annual Glenn McCormick Memorial Invitational Dive Meet and other diving events commonly held at Belmont before the closure, Long Beach businesses will see an additional 1,796 room nights and 5,390 meals per year. During these events, attendees, family members, coaches and spectators flock to businesses all over Long Beach including Belmont Shore, Shoreline Village, the Pike, Pine Ave and more. If the new facility is built including the multi-purpose deep-water well with diving platforms and lasts as long as the original did, City businesses stand to gain 105,401 room nights and over 632,404 meals sold in coming years just for diving events.
As the original Belmont Plaza Pool was being closed in 2013, ABC’s “Celebrity Splash,” originally scheduled to film there, had to find a new location. It is reported that the event brought in 100 jobs and over $4.4 million to Riverside after producers were forced to move because of the loss of the Long Beach facility. This economic influx from diving events is common for properly built aquatic facilities. Other top U.S. indoor aquatic facilities report similar economic boosts from diving events.
During the 2012 Olympic Diving Trials, the Federal Way Mirror reported
“This is a great marketing opportunity for you as a city to have your name attached to the aquatic center,” said Suzanne Fletcher, executive director of the Washington Tourism Alliance. “If Federal Way wants to be in the tourism business, they have to make themselves a destination.”
Federal Way reported a $3.5 million increase to local businesses from hosting one Olympic Trials diving event and $8 million annually to local economy directly attributable to the international competition ready facility.
Some have mentioned seating for such events could be an issue. We could be creative and make this an additional boon for local businesses if we include them in broadcasting events on large screens around the facility as was done with events at the 2012 London Olympics.
Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that some of our highly placed City staff appear to be more concerned about the initial investment versus the long-term benefits to the Long Beach community. Long Beach sources report that there are plans to recommend that the City Council renege on its promise of a world-class facility like those bringing in millions of dollars per year to other communities with similar aquatics venues.
Other new multi-million dollar destination aquatics facilities such as the Greensboro Aquatic Center in North Carolina are revitalizing their communities. Greensboro City Official, Jay Dodson and his Star Aquatics team report that pool time was selling out immediately upon opening. Dodson said, “The Greensboro Aquatic Center will serve our community for a very long time.”
Greensboro City staff initially questioned about the justification for such an expensive venture are now credited with the entrepreneurial foresight and are lauded by the business community for re-energizing the community. To save taxpayers, the Greensboro facility has attracted multi-million dollar business sponsorships. Again, the Long Beach facility already has sponsorship of sorts in that it is fully funded by Tidelands funds while at the same time, it brings in tax revenue in the form of jobs and tourism money to local businesses.
After winning the bid for the 2016 Olympic Diving Trials, the City of Indianapolis reported that an agreement is imminent to pay for up to $20 million in upgrades for the Natatorium at IUPUI.
The Indianapolis Star reported the need for upgrades to the 31-year-old venue during June 2013’s USA Swimming Championships, adding that aquatics leaders say there is a continuous flow of money from visitors for age-group, high school and other national meets such as the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships.
A properly rebuilt Olympic Pool with a multi–purpose deep water pool that incorporates competition ready diving boards and platforms will bring in local, high school, college, USA Diving, AAU Diving, Synchronized Diving, National Championships, International Events, Olympic Trials and more. Long Beach has been the host for 2 Olympic Swimming Trials, NCAA Championships in Swimming & Diving plus Men’s Water Polo, 17 Men’s and Women’s Pac 10/12 Swimming and Diving competitions, CIF-SS high school championships as well as countless local events and location rental for television and movie productions.
Add to that all of the other things the multi-purpose deep water pool with diving platforms can be used for including deep water rescue training, Junior Water Polo, Scuba classes, synchronized swimming, underwater hockey, paddleboard and kayak training, deep water aerobics, training for a new Olympic event of High Diving (Red Bull Cliff Diving) as well as warm-up and cool down pool during major swim and water polo events.
Over the years, the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool hosted such greats as Olympic Swimming Gold Medalists Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps, Susie Atwood and Jessica Hardy; 4-time Olympic gold medalists Greg Louganis and current Olympic Gold Medalist David Boudia in diving. Famous local names like 4-time Olympians Ryan Bailey and Tony Azevedo in Water Polo have all graced the Belmont Pool waters over the years. World famous coaches in Water polo, Swimming and Diving – Monte Nitzkowski, Don Gambril and Glenn McCormick, to name just three – left quite a legacy.
At 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 17, the current Long Beach City Council is meeting about this issue in a Study Session prior to its regularly scheduled City Council meeting. If the City Council is convinced to leave out the multi-purpose deep water portion of the project, not only the aquatic athletes, but local Long Beach businesses will be the losers. Short-sighted short-cuts to reduce immediate costs while discounting the long-term benefits will mean long-term loss for athletes and businesses. The city has a once in a generation opportunity to build this right and reap the rewards for the next 30-40 years.
McCormick Divers is the premiere diving club of the City of Long Beach serving athletes from the all over the L.A. Basin and continues to strive for excellence since 1968