Greensboro City Council Set To Discuss Aquatic Center

11:47 AM, Dec 15, 2009   |    comments
This image, courtesy of the Greensboro Coliseum, shows the proposed location for the aquatic center.
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Greensboro, NC -- Greensboro city council members are set to discuss plans for the controversial aquatic center Tuesday afternoon.

It doesn't appear it's a question of whether the city will get a swim center, but rather how big and expensive it might be.

The aquatic center project got out of the gates with enthusiasm last year as Greensboro voters OKed a $12 million bond to fund a venue that would attract statewide, regional and even national events.

The proposed site for the center is on the Greensboro Coliseum complex, next to the Special Events Center. With all the early momentum, it seemed like the aquatic center was a done deal. But is it?

In recent months, the price tag ballooned to around $18.8 million. That's a $6.8 million gap in what voters funded and what Greensboro's old city council approved. In its last meeting in early December, the old council gave the green light to a hotel tax that would cover the gap.

But within the last three weeks, the city got a new mayor and several new council members who say they too are all for a new swim center, but are gun shy about the old city council's plan to fund it. And that's what they want to talk about Tuesday afternoon.

At issue is the price tag. Some council members tell WFMY News 2 that voters funded a $12 million center, and that unless private funding pays for anything more expensive than that, then that's where the price tag should stay.

But advocates, like Henri Fourrier with the Greensboro Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, say a $12 million swim center would be too small to attract big-time events. Fourrier believes the $18.8 million swim center is a bargain and is what's needed to attract events big enough to have a positive economic impact on the area.

"If we start cutting the pool ... and downscale it, we wouldn't be able to sell it to bring in competitive events," Fourrier said. "So basically, you would end up with a local pool [and] aquatic center.

"And frankly, without a great revenue stream coming in, the maintenance of that pool could be substantially higher and would be the full burden back to the taxpayers."

Fourrier estimates a full-sized swim center could pull in between $30-40 million a year in revenue for the area, much like soccer and track events do. And he says he's already gotten interest from five entities. That's interest he believes will shrink if the size of the swim center does.

Greensboro Mayor Bill Knight told WFMY News 2's "Good Morning Show" Tuesday that he is very much in favor of the swim center, even at the $18.8 million price tag. But he says his main concern is how to cover that $6.8 million spending gap.

Mayor Knight says he's willing to put the funding gap to a vote to see if Greensboro voters want to fund it with another bond or some other public funding. Listening to the voters is paramount, Knight said. He expressed concern that a proposed hotel tax to cover the spending gap may not actually provide all the money.

He's also interested in whether the private sector will step up and fund the gap. The mayor mentioned a similar project in Cary that was paid for entirely by private contributions.

At-large city councilman Robbie Perkins also appeared on the "Good Morning Show" Tuesday. He says he's been working to get an aquatics center in Greensboro for 10 years and is happy with the proposal to fund the new swim center through the voter bond and the hotel tax.

The city council will meet at 5:30 Tuesday afternoon to discuss the aquatic center and the different options for funding it.


WFMY News 2

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