EDITORIAL: Concrete steps

The Tupelo City Council’s unanimous decision to move forward with a contract for drawings, site selection and cost estimates for a new aquatics center will make big strides toward taking public swimming from casual recreation to a profitable, structured athletic competition site for the city and region.
A $100, 000 contract approved Tuesday night instructs the JBHM architectural firm to provide those preliminary details for a project sought for several years by members of Tupelo’s swimming teams at Tupelo High School and the regional, nationally sanctioned team, Shockwave. A strong support group, Tupelo Aquatic Club, has worked closely with city officials and the Tupelo Parks and Recreation Department to move the project forward.
The city will pay for the architect with surplus cash raised as part of a 2007 bond issue.
The plan generally calls for a new center – what’s usually called an Olympic-sized pool – to replace a venerable but limited pool at Rob Leake City Park. The existing poll requires a removable cover for all-season practice and competition. Replacing that would be required in about two years and could cost in the range of $800,000 – but the pool and its supporting facilities would not be changed.
Preliminary discussions have put an approximate price at $7 million, but that is not a final or official estimate. A bond issue, but not a tax increase, would be required to build a new center. The constant retirement of city debt makes possible issuing bonds for the center without adding to property debt loads. A bond issue would be paid off over 15 years.
Competitive swimming has been part of Tupelo’s community life for decades, and many student-age swimmers have become college and university scholarship athletes. Hundreds of people are involved as competitors and supporters in swimming.
The Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau earlier estimated $2.5 million in annual direct benefit could be generated by the teams, parents and fans of swimming who would come to Tupelo for a new, state-of-the-sport facility.
Shockwave is an official affiliate of USA Swimming, the Olympic training and national governing body for the sport nationwide. Similar affiliations bring major tournaments in soccer, baseball and softball to Tupelo’s superior facilities for those sports.
Swimming is a growing competitive sport, and a new facility in Tupelo could capture the economic benefit from a wide region. More than 250,000 year-round competitors are registered.
A new facility could capture the enthusiasm – and the money – related to swimming for the region’s economy.

NEMS Daily Journal