Continued Infighting in Fort Lauderdale as City Looks to Build $33.7 Million Aquatic Facility

Fort Lauderdale

FORT LAUDERDALE – A new $33.7 million Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Facility continues to be the center of much consternation in the Florida city.

There continues to be infighting created by the void in Fort Lauderdale caused when news broke a year ago that the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) would be looking for a new home at the end of its current 50-year pact with Fort Lauderdale in Feb 2015.

Some constituents continue to fight to find a way to keep ISHOF as part of the plans, while others have put forth plans that would involve building a brand new aquatic facility that would entice USA Swimming and USA Diving into hosting national championship events there.

Most recently, USA Swimming’s Frank Busch and USA Diving’s Steve Foley reportedly changed their critical stances towards a $33.7 million plan and are now supporting it as it moves forward according to the Sun-Sentinel.

YMCA’s Mike Leonard is one of the advocates of the new plan.

“Our national championship meets were here for 30 years,” Leonard said. “It’s a family event and all those families want to come back to Fort Lauderdale.”

The YMCA has switched its national championships to Greensboro, N.C., recently with concerns regarding Fort Lauderdale’s current facilities, even though the YMCA has historically kept its national event in Florida.  However, as reported by the Sun-Sentinel, attendance has begun to fall at the Greensboro-based event due to a lack of “vacation appeal” compared to Fort Lauderdale.

“In the swimming community, it’s viewed as Disney World, it’s that well thought of,” Leonard said.

One of the primary concerns against the current plans for the new facility is the placement of the diving well due to questions regarding wind strength.

U.S. Olympic Diving Coaches Tim and Ron O’Brien have been at the forefront of this fight, having been involved in an online Facebook community entitled Keep ISHOF in Fort Lauderdale & Build a Truly World Class Venue.  The group not only believes that the diving portion of current plans are dangerous, but that any plan going forward should still keep ISHOF as a primary tenant.

Today, the two released a lengthy-letter against the current plans in lieu of being able to attend a city planning meeting regarding the facility. On top of questioning the diving well location, the O’Briens are calling for a recreational element to be added to help increase revenue streams to the location.

Here is the letter in full:

Unfortunately, both of us are out of town and won’t be able to attend the meeting tonight to discuss the plans for the new aquatic facility. We were, however, made aware of the article in today’s Sun-Sentinel stating that USA Swimming and USA Diving support the project but it was unclear to us as to what they support?

As two Olympic Coaches who coached in that facility for 17 years, are very familiar with the prevailing wind conditions, and have lived in Fort Lauderdale for 25 years, we in no way support the current design plans. We support the inclusion of ISHOF in ANY plans on that peninsula. They were there first and it is their home. They are one of only a handful of historic landmarks in our City. We also support the dive well on ground level at the West end near the intracoastal. The second alternative would be to build the dive well at ground level on the East end near Seabreeze Boulevard. The wind would not be a significant factor there but we do NOT, in any way, support a facility that puts the diving well on top of a four-story parking garage and eliminates ISHOF from staying in Fort Lauderdale.

At this point, it appears that the only entities that do support the current plans are those that will visit from out of town for ONE week, ONCE a year to hold their meets, who will benefit from not having ISHOF on the property, but do not have to support the millions of dollars the facility will lose annually with their own tax dollars. In addition, we have yet to find any residents within the community who even know about the City plans or if they do, support the project in its current form.

The only local people we have found who currently support this project are the Mayor, three commissioners and RDC who, as we all know, was the only bid on the project. To our knowledge, Mayor Dean Trantalis does not support the current design plan. Furthermore, we have no faith in RDC’s ability to deliver a quality, world class product on time or on budget and have not seen any facilities of this type that they have built in the past because there are NONE. Frankly, we do not know why the City will not consult with the most reputable aquatic design experts and builders in the world who are currently involved in a very similar project directly on the beach in Long Beach, California.

Our advice to the City has been and remains to start over. We advise them to follow Long Beach’s model and form an Advisory Board of diving and swimming experts, current and former facility staff, ISHOF Board Members, beach residents, City staff, local business owners, facility design experts and residents and then re-open the RFP to get a new vision and plan. This re-opening of the process would be a catalyst and provide an opportunity to re-open discussions with ISHOF in hopes of keeping them here in their home of 50 years.

Contrary to remarks made on record by members of the Commission, the MAIN reason ISHOF is leaving is because of the poor design and outdated concept of the new facility and the millions of dollars such a facility will lose annually. That was the impetus for them looking elsewhere for a new home. As we have stated numerous times, the current design of the new facility eliminates 99% of the surrounding community from using it. Tourists have no reason to venture over. We would like to see a recreational element to the project that brings in the locals and tourists as competition only swimming and diving facilities always lose money. We were a part of one that imploded financially and was closed. We have already provided TWO independent reviews of the RDC plan that dispute their flawed business and design plan.

There is a better way. We have and will continue to offer our vision and expertise. We ask the City of Fort Lauderdale to pause, to listen, to start the process over and take the time to exhaust all possible outcomes to do what is best for that peninsula and the residents of Fort Lauderdale. If not, they are better of just improving the existing facility with a portion of the $33 million and letting ISHOF stay in their current building.

At this point, the only positive aspect of this whole project by the City of Fort Lauderdale is that it will be a great model for other municipalities and cities to use as to what process not to follow and how not to build a new aquatic facility.

We hope that you will do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Ron O’Brien
U.S. Olympic Coach
1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996

Tim O’Brien
U.S Olympic Coach
2000

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