by John Steinberger | December 21, 2018 4:43 pm
Former Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson is leading a committee to study the possibility of building a 65,000 square foot Aquatic and Wellness Center in the vicinity of Citadel Mall. The facility would include an Olympic-grade competition pool, a swimming instruction and physical therapy pool and a 17-foot deep Olympic-grade diving tank. The facility would cost about $50 million and require funding from the City of Charleston, Charleston County, the State of South Carolina and corporate sponsors. The venue would complement a traveling sports event center being planned for Citadel Mall.
Charleston has a vibrant swimming community but currently lacks high-level training or competition facilities. Wilson believes that the proposed aquatic center would attract local, state, national and NCAA competitions. It could be rented out to college swimming and diving teams for training camps. The diving tank could be used to train law enforcement and military water rescue units. There is also a plan to partner with the local hospitals and the Veterans Administration agencies in Charleston and Columbia to provide physical therapy services.
A Clemson University economic study projected that the aquatic center would attract more than 54,000 visitors from outside of the Charleston area by 2026 and generate $60 million in annual economic activity. The increased visitor traffic would likely result in greater hotel occupancy in West Ashley, the creation of new businesses in the hospitality sector, and increased hospitality and accommodations tax revenue.
The facility would be an ideal site for high school swimming competitions from a wide radius. The nearest comparable facility is located in Greensboro, NC. With seating for 2000 spectators, it is a much more visitor-friendly venue than the complex at the University of South Carolina. It could also attract NCAA competitions, possibly even the Southeastern Conference (SEC) swimming and diving championships. Competitions in water polo and synchronized swimming could also be hosted there.
Wilson says that the aquatic center would also have an educational function. In addition to offering swimming lessons to area youth and adults, the center would train lifeguards and water safety instructors. It could be used to train physical education students at area colleges and provide apprenticeship opportunities for students in the College of Charleston’s Health and Human Performance program. Wilson hopes to have an executive director in place by 2020 to finish the planning and ruled herself out for filling that position. She identified four economic development milestones in the West Ashley Master Plan which would be supported by the facility.
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