Fort Lauderdale’s International Swimming Hall of Fame pool complex, known by many as the Aquatic Center, is a place where swimmers and divers around the world have trained and competed.
But for most of the past 20 years, swimmers, divers, civic activists and city officials have argued over how to renovate it and return it to its prominence in the competitive world. On Friday, the city finally broke ground on a $28 million improvement project of the renowned center.
Here’s a look through the years.
The Aquatic Center opens. Swimming greats Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, and Esther Williams are present, and the event is aired on CBS-TV. The same year, a nonprofit group forms to bring a swimming shrine to town.
The swimming museum opens. By a vote of the Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA), the complex becomes the official international repository of history and memorabilia for all aquatic sports.
By the mid-80s, the swim facility is showing some age. In a bond referendum that year, voters agree to a renovation.
The new International Swimming Hall of Fame museum building opens, and the renovated swim complex is unveiled. The improvements total $12 million.
Fort Lauderdale commissioners entertain proposals from developers to build a new swim complex and museum, as part of an overall redevelopment that could put condos or a hotel on the peninsula.
The city agrees to remake the complex for $27.7 million, rather than teaming up with a private developer.
Nothing has come of years of proposals. A new vision suggested by a consultant, of a family water playground, excites the city.
The city announces its intent to turn the property into a tourist attraction. A marine aquarium is briefly considered. A water park with slides and a “lazy river” are part of the dream. “We need to create a tourist destination,” then-Mayor Jack Seiler says. Only one firm, Recreational Design and Construction (RDC), submits a bid. Its $76.1 million proposal includes restaurants, commercial space and artificial surf machines. It is seen as too expensive, and too intense.
The city pares down RDC’s proposal.
Grandstands at the pool complex are deemed structurally unsound and are condemned. The building under them also is condemned, and netting is installed to catch falling pieces of concrete. Meanwhile, independent reviews find that Recreational Design and Construction’s pared-down proposal — less than $25 million — is deeply flawed and unrealistic.
Fort Lauderdale approves a renovation contract with RDC, with a guaranteed maximum price of $32.4 million.
The International Swimming Hall of Fame museum announces it will move to California, feeling snubbed by the city in renovation plans. (The decision is rescinded several years later.) The same year, the Broward County inspector general declares that the city broke state law in hiring RDC for the renovation and should put it back out for competitive bid.
At the end of the year, the city backs out of the deal with RDC, when the price leaps to $39 million.
An analysis done for the city says it will cost $36.4 million to bring the center up to competition standards. The city says $15 million sounds more palatable.
The city agrees to spend $27 million to renovate the aquatics complex, hiring Hensel Phelps Construction Co. to do the work. The city also will spend about $1 million redoing the locker rooms.
There are 117 divers who compete in the Wendy Wyland Diving Invitational, the last major event before the complex closes for renovations. Swim groups and visitors get their last dips in.
April 5, 2019
A ceremonial groundbreaking takes place. Olympic swimmers, divers and coaches are on hand to herald the news.
April 13, 2019
At noon, the Aquatic Center pools will close for 18 months of renovations.