Amidst Controversy, Swimming Hall of Fame Plans to Move to Pompano Beach

Editor's note: Over the past few months, the International Swimming Hall of Fame – ISHoF – located in Ft. Lauderdale, has been at the center of a host of controversies that have swirled around it, with charges and countercharges being hurled about. In this article, Buck Dawson, Executive Director eneritus of the ISHOF, and Bob Deunkel, the Hall's Executive Director, attempt to set the record straight.

By Buck Dawson and Bob Duenkel

FT. LAUDERDALE. ON May 24, 2001, the City of Fort Lauderdale Commission voted 3 to 2 to reject a 30 million dollar gift to build a new facility to house the International Swimming hall of Fame museum, library and connected swimming and diving pools. 

The Hall of Fame has been located in Ft. Lauderdale since its inception 36 years ago. Nonetheless the Commission rejected the gift in favor of constructing condominiums and a retail and park complex on the adjacent site, three blocks north of the current ISHOF site, the proposed new site of a new ISHOF. 

An outcry of local, national and international support for ISHOF and disgust at the outcome of the vote, inspired other cities to contact ISHOF to offer alternative sites.

Over the summer months, the most serious of these offers came from Hollywood, Florida; Pompano Beach, Florida; Sunny Isles, Florida; and Fort Lauderdale (on a lesser scale than that of the May 24 vote).  The ISHOF Board of Directors met in September and authorized ISHOF President and CEO, Dr. Sam Freas, to pursue the Hollywood offer, as it appeared to be the most beneficial to ISHOF.

Together with developer Michael Swerdlow, Sam began negotiations with Hollywood officials. An announcement was made declaring Hollywood's intention to build ISHOF a new home on the beach in its city. Ensuing weeks of discussion led to a display of citizen unrest, not against ISHOF but against the removal of a small number of citizens' homes to make room for the building of condominiums needed to finance the new ISHOF facility.  Because of this new dilemma, ISHOF decided not to pursue a move to this city.

Within days, Pompano Beach reiterated its desire to lure ISHOF to a six-acre site on and near Pompano's beach.  Negotiations are presently under way to fulfill this plan. 

Pompano Beach is a wonderful city located only 10 miles north of Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic Ocean.  Discussions will include doubling the current size of the ISHOF museum and library, building new swimming and diving pools, incorporating the Pompano Fishing Pier as an ISHOF landmark, much like the old Fort Lauderdale Water Tower used to be, and improving meeting and banquet quarters. 

A move to Pompano Beach would keep the Hall in the area, a llocation that so many of ISHOF'S supporters have grown to enjoy and appreciate.  It would be a move up the beach to a more politically friendly environment.

While these negotiations have been taking place over the past two months, numerous local media releases from a few Fort Lauderdale officials have tried to smear the names of ISHOF, Sam Freas and Michael Swerdlow in an attempt to degrade the value of ISHOF.  If you have been following the progress of these media releases, we urge you not to believe them. Attacks in the press against ISHOF and Sam Freas with the intent to downgrade ISHOF, could fool the public into accepting ISHOF's leaving.

Sam Freas, ISHOF staff, Board of Directors and developer Swerdlow have only the best interest of ISHOF at heart.  ISHOF's Board of Directors and Executive Board have repeatedly voted their support of Sam for his ability to do what is right to negotiate the fairest outcome for all concerned. 

ISHOF is really close to acquiring a new home.  We do not want to get into a battle in the press.  We will do all we can in support of ISHOF in discussions with Pompano Beach.  A solid foundation for ISHOF's future is at stake.  We believe the truth about these false allegations eventually will emerge.  ISHOF is your Hall of Fame, and your support is always welcomed.

We will bring you developments as they happen.

Buck Dawson, Executive Director Emeritus, served as ISHOF's founding Executive Director beginning in 1965 and continues to serve on the Board of Directors.

Bob Duenkel, ISHOF's Executive Director and Curator has been with ISHOF since 1976.

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