From The Daniel Island News
Lowcountry leaders agree: Natatorium a great idea
By Suzanne Detar
Mar 14, 2008 - 11:47:16 AM
As the Mt. Pleasant and city of Charleston year-round swim teams celebrate their state championship accomplishments and Olympic trial cut swimmers, parents and swimmers of both teams continue to urge local governments to build a regional natatorium, a large swim facility with stadium seating, in the Lowcountry.
The City of Charleston’s Martin Luther King Pool is located in the city’s East Side. The facility is used recreationally by city residents and is the main practice facility for the city’s USA Swimming team, the Southern Marlin’s Racing Team (SMRT). The only public 50 meter pool in the region, it is in dire need of repair. In the winter, a bubble is placed over the pool so swimmers can use the facility year round. The bubble is also in need of repair and/or replacement. Neither this pool or any of the other pools in the region is designed to host large regional meets. The Mt. Pleasant and SMRT teams regularly travel to facilities in Savannah, Augusta and Rock Hill to compete in USA sanctioned meets.|
In recent weeks, Mike Lierley, facilities chairman of the Mt. Pleasant Swim Club Association (MPSC) gave a presentation to a Mt. Pleasant Rotary club and to the Mt. Pleasant Town Council, and members of the Daniel Island Business Association had a lively discussion revolving around whether a natatorium or other park facility could help establish Daniel Island as a "destination," bringing more people on to the island on a daily basis, as well as through week-end swim events.
Parents and swimmers with the city of Charleston Southern Marlins Racing Team (SMRT) have engaged in a letter writing campaign to Mayor Riley and to newspapers in support of building a regional natatorium.
The rallying cry has not gone unnoticed by government leaders.
Mt. Pleasant Town Administrator Mac Burdette and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley agree that the Lowcountry would benefit from a regional natatorium.
"Yes. We need it because of the opportunity it offers for recreation and athletic interests…and it has value economically because it attracts meets," Mayor Riley said, noting that the city’s current facilities are old and in need of repairs.
The city has the only 50 meter public pool in the region - the Martin Luther King Pool is located in the East Side and in dire need of repairs. In addition to needing repairs, it does not have seating or parking needed to host a large meet.
The Mt. Pleasant Recreation Department has two 25-yard pools, neither large enough to accommodate large meets or long course events.
The mayor said two important questions remain – "how to pay for it and where to build it."
Burdette echoed the Mayor Riley’s comments, explaining that a natatorium in the region would have two purposes: to serve the local population and to attract outside swim events. "It is an economic development project just as much as it is a local swimming project," he said.
Other regional cities, such as Savannah, Augusta and Rock Hill, have large natatoriums that bring up to $5 million dollars into their communities in food and accommodations spending yearly, supporters of the natatorium have said.
It remains to me seen if leaders are seriously committed to a $7 million to $14 million project. Riley said the city currently has no funding scheme in place to build a natatorium.
Burdette said, "It’s on our radar screen...but we haven’t budgeted money."
Burdette did say, however, that the town did earmark $1.5 million in a capital improvement fund to look at land, stressing that amount is only one-tenth of the amount needed to build a facility.
Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission Executive Director Tom O’Rourke said that his office has not committed any money and that discussion of a natatorium had not been on the board’s agenda.
"I have been in the field of public parks and recreation, in some form or another, for over 20 years in the Charleston area. I don’t think a month has gone by in those 20-some years where I have not had a discussion with someone on the subject of a natatorium for the Charleston region. Currently, there are talks of a facility being built; but these are not new discussions, they are just being conducted by a new group of people."
O’Rourke, Mayor Riley, and Burdette all stressed that a natatorium would most likely only be built with regional government cooperation.
City of Charleston Southern Marlin Racing Team member Lindsey Olson is one of two Lowcountry swimmers to qualify for the Olympic Trials this summer. Her teammate, Katy Motsinger, also qualified for the trials. Olson, who will attend South Carolina next year on a full swim scholarship, is pictured here during an afternoon training session earlier this week at the Marlin Luther King Pool in the city’s East Side.|
"We need to find the right place that will support it…it might be in the city limits it might not," Riley said stressing, "Political boundaries should not be barriers to cooperation."
Burdette said that Mt. Pleasant leaders and Mayor Riley had communicated recently about a regional natatorium.
"Our council is intrigued by the idea of it but also grounded that it is going to cost a lot of money," Burdette said.
He said that he would work with anyone willing to bring resources to the table, such as a corporate sponsor, and that both the College of Charleston and the Citadel should also be considered as possible partners in a regional natatorium.
Editor’s Note: The reference to both a natatorium and an aquatics center in the DINA question is confusing to some as the terms natatorium and aquatics center are used interchangeably. The DINA question defines an aquatics center as a "recreation area with kayaks/sailboats/etc. with classes & renting of equipment." To avoid confusion, this article only uses the word natatorium to refer to a swim facility.