A 15-person Columbus Aquatic Center Task Force has been formed to help the facility to remain fully open, Parks and Recreation Director James Worsley told Columbus Council today.
The task force met on Tuesday, Jan. 5 and again on Monday, Jan. 11 to establish goals and to start planning how to reach them, Worsley said. The task force plans to meet every Monday at 5:30 at the aquatic center to further develop short- and long-term plans for the center.
According to Worsley, the task force has five broad areas members want to address: fund-raising, corporate sponsorship, marketing, revenue generating and attracting additional events.
It has already attracted one major event. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics recently announced that it had entered a two-year agreement with the Columbus Sports Council to host the 2016 and 2017 men's and women's swimming and diving national championships at the aquatic center. The 2016 event will be March 2-5.
Councilor Gary Allen told Worsley that an event like the NAIA competition will present a rare opportunity to showcase the new facility, which could attract more and larger events. Making the event a success should be part of the task force’s focuses, Allen said.
“You have an opportunity here,” Allen said. “When I saw that this meet was going to be here, I was impressed. This is a big deal.”
After opening in 2013, the aquatic center went through a rough time with the private company the city hired to operate it for $825,00 a year. After 18 months, the city cancelled the contract and put its parks and recreation department temporarily in charge of it until either another private company could be found to take it over or parks and recreation takes over the operations permanently.
But in the meantime, Worley told councilors recently, the money budgeted for the aquatic center for fiscal 2016 will only allow it to be open for about 56 hours a week instead of the current 89 hours.
Backlash from the swimming community over the possible cutbacks were what led to the establishment of the task force.
The task force members and their affiliations are: Karen Waters, Columbus High swim coach; Rad Mitchell, Shaw High swim coach; Jay Sparks, Brookstone athletic director; Janet Bussey, senior citizens; Brian Abeyta, Aflac/private sector; Merri Sherman, Columbus Sports Council; Peter Bowden, Columbus Visitors Bureau; Steven Swinehart, Columbus Hurricanes; Tom Queen, public sector; Rebecca Langford, Muscogee Sports; Rachel Marsh, marketing; Irene Pate, recreation advisory board; Genia Webb, Friends of the Natatorium; Jason Ball, triathletes; and James Albright, a retired certified public accountant.