OUR OPINION: Decision timing right for an aquatic center

By NEMS Daily Journal

The probable siting in Veteran’s Park of an $11.3 million aquatic center for competitive and recreational swimming potentially creates new opportunities for commercial and tourism expansion in east Tupelo.
Tupelo City Council members appeared to lean heavily to Veteran’s Park at a meeting Tuesday with supporters of the project, a venue that would operate year-round and have the capacity to host major regional swimming competitions, which, like soccer and youth baseball, have generated significant seasonal “tourism” revenue with parents, coaches, competitors and friends who follow the sanctioned tour.
As Parks and Recreation Director Don Lewis noted, once a vote is taken for a final plan the site will be set.
Tupelo’s other large public recreation area, Ballard Park, which occupies a sprawling tract on West Main Street and extends southward to Cliff Gookin Boulevard, is already heavily developed with baseball and soccer fields, a cross-country track, walking tracks, picnic areas and a performance canopy and stage, plus the city’s museum.
The Parks and Recreation Department headquarters building occupies a small part of Ballard Park.
The new aquatic center would for all practical purposes replace the pool at Rob Leake City Park as a competition venue. The park adjoins the campus of Joyner School on Joyner Avenue.
City Park, as the complex is commonly called, has served both recreational and competitive youth and adult sports for almost 50 years, especially tennis and swimming.
Competitive swimming has outgrown the facility, which is no longer viable compared to the aquatic centers available to some of Tupelo’s swim team opponents.
The aquatic center won’t be inexpensive. No capital investment of significant size comes cheap, but Tupelo Chief Financial Officer Lynn Norris stands firm on his calculation that the new center can be built with sale of municipally backed bonds – with no tax increase.
The center (or as most other similar venues are called, natatorium) can be expected to last and serve as well as the pool at City Park, which counts multiple generations of many Tupelo families among its regular users and customers.
The economic return on investment depends in part on how many swim meets and tournaments can be brought with their fan bases and need for accommodations. The Parks and Rec department and the Convention and Visitors Bureau have a strong working partnership matching dates, facilities and seasons, with constant recruitment. The marketing professionals fully understand the difference between a neighborhood public pool and a regional attraction.