OUR OPINION: Aquatics center decision begins a new sports era

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo’s City Council made a big splash Tuesday night with the acceptance of an $11 million bid to build a new aquatics center at Veterans Memorial Park.
The long-sought, long-planned 45,000-square-foot facility will provide ample recreational swimming for Tupelo for a half-century and make possible attracting top regional competitive swim meets from Mississippi and the Southeast.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr., noting Tupelo’s half-century-long history of fielding competitive swimming teams at several levels, said the new aquatics center begins a wave of quality-of-life improvements:
• After the new center is completed, Rob Leake City Park swimming pool will be razed and the space it occupies will become four new tennis courts; the bubble used to cover city park pool will be adapted to cover those new courts. Those will be the only covered, all-weather public courts in Mississippi other than in Tunica.
• A splash pool also is in the master plan for Rob Leake park to serve the child-friendly Joyner neighborhood.
Reed also said the aquatics center will become a residential magnet for the area around Veterans Park.
Parks and Recreation Director Don Lewis said Wednesday that planning is well advanced in initial recruitment of swim meets at the state and regional level that could fill Tupelo’s hotels and motels. The new center, he and Reed both said, makes Tupelo competitive with cities like Nashville, which is known for its swimming venue.
The city clearly has developed what it believes is an achievable plan to attract a fair share of major meets (no city can realistically expect to get the same big ones every year); develop a strong relationship with USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport; and hire a full-time aquatics director to manage the center and promote its program.
Lewis compared the aquatics decision to a decision almost two decades ago to go forward with development of a fully equipped regional soccer center, which has made Ballard Park a hub of seasonal tournament competition.
The bid coincidentally was approved during the 30th Olympiad in London, where swimmers from around the world, including all-time top medalist Michael Phelps of the U.S., were watched by untold millions. All of the U.S. swimmers started with strong community-based swimming programs.
The new aquatics center in Tupelo opens the door for the kind of work, discipline and competition that lead to Olympic gold, or just as importantly, to the satisfaction of achieving personal fitness goals.