By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Mayor Jason Shelton and former mayor Jack Reed Jr. christened the newly completed Tupelo Aquatic Center with an inaugural cannonball yesterday morning.
Its grand opening will be held on Saturday, when programs that will be available for the public will be demonstrated. These include paddle boarding, scuba diving, aqua Zumba, kickboxing and more.
The center boasts an Olympic-sized, 20-lane pool and a smaller, four-lane heated pool, more than enough to meet the demands of the seven swim meets to take place at the center next year for the Tupelo High School and Shockwave swim teams.
“We also have a rock climbing wall and facilities to accommodate birthday parties,” said aquatics director Amy Kennedy. “It’s really the best for recreation and competition.”
The Aquatic Center will host the programs formerly provided at the Rob Leake City Park pool through the end of the year, at which point Kennedy said the center will initiate its new programming. In addition, the center will house the Tupelo Public School District’s Safe Splash program, which teaches every second-grader in the district to swim.
Reed, a prime initiator and supporter of the center during his time as mayor, said the facility is distinct from any other in a multi-state region.
“At the beginning, I thought if we’re going to do something at all, it needs to be different enough to get people to want to come,” he said. “There’s nowhere better in the South.”
Considering two of the scheduled swim meets are state championship meets, Shelton and city chief operations officer Don Lewis said the $12 million center is budgeted to pay for itself in its first year. With room for 600 athletes and 900 spectators, the Aquatic Center will benefit the city as a whole, Shelton said.
“You have to consider the economic impact on the entire city,” he said. “People coming in for those meets will stay at our hotels, eat at our restaurants, and shop at our stores. Not to mention the exposure to the city of Tupelo.”
Memberships to the center, which will be open year round, also will play a part in bringing the Aquatic Center back into the black.
“When membership reaches about 1,500 to 1,700 we’ll be close to breaking even,” Lewis said.
Membership costs for families will be $50 for one month, $125 for three months and $360 for 12 months. For individuals, it will be $25 for one month, $70 for three months and $240 for 12 months. For senior citizens, it’s $20, $55 and $180.