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St. Charles aquatic center seen as economic engine

Organizers say facility will attract tourists to St. Charles

The natatorium will house a 10-lane, 50-meter-long Olympic-sized competition pool, along with a smaller, warm-water tank for recreation, therapy and teaching.
The natatorium will house a 10-lane, 50-meter-long Olympic-sized competition pool, along with a smaller, warm-water tank for recreation, therapy and teaching.

ST. CHARLES – The proposed Olympic-class indoor aquatic center will be an economic boon for St. Charles, according to leaders of the organization championing the effort to build the facility.

SwimCity USA, a local nonprofit group, is raising money to build a natatorium housing a 10-lane, 50-meter-long Olympic-sized competition pool, along with a smaller, warm-water tank for recreation, therapy and teaching.

The aquatic center is to be located at the St. Charles Park District’s East Side Sports Complex on the site of an existing soccer field.

SwimCity USA is touting the findings of a feasibility study showing that the facility will generate $12 million annually for the local economy, while providing needed services for area residents.

“That is a huge game-changer for St. Charles economically,” Swim City USA Vice President Tony Cantrell said. “This is for everyone in the community. It’s not just swim-centric.”

The study by the Michigan-based aquatics consultant ISG showed that the facility will produce more than 10,000 hotel-night visits per year, Cantrell said.

That’s music to the ears of the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It absolutely will have a big impact on the area,” interim Executive Director DeAnn Wagner said of the aquatic center.

There are 2,200 hotel rooms in St. Charles, Wagner said, including the Q Center and Pheasant Run Resort.

The large crowds that will be attracted to the aquatic center for competitive swimming tournaments and other events will help fill hotel rooms during slower winter months, Wagner said.

Moreover, the additional room occupancy that could be expected in summer months will allow hoteliers to charge higher rates, Wagner said.

And of course, more visitors will mean more customers for local restaurants, retail stores and other businesses, Wagner said.

The city of St. Charles charges a 5 percent tax on hotel room stays, collecting about $1 million a year, according to City Administrator Mark Koenen, who said the aquatic center will be good for the local economy.

The city uses hotel tax revenues to help fund the visitor’s bureau, the St. Charles History Museum and activities that attract tourists, including the Pride of the Fox Festival, Koenen said.

Both Koenen and Wagner said the aquatic center would serve to bring swimming tournaments to St. Charles that now are held in other states.

Cantrell said that the aquatic facility will make the area more attractive to prospective residents, raising home values and increasing property tax revenues for better schools and other government services.

The aquatic center would be much more than a showcase for competitive swimming, Cantrell said, offering everything from swimming lessons to recreational programs to therapeutic services.

Despite the presence of the Norris Recreation Center pool and other outdoor pools, the St. Charles area is underserved when it comes to aquatics, Cantrell said.

These include water-safety programs and swimming lessons, along with health and wellness programs. Cantrell said.

“This is a tremendous win-win, both socially and economically,” Cantrell said.

The cost of the facility is estimated at about $19 million, Cantrell said, with the goal for construction to begin next year and a 2020 opening.

Once complete, Swim City USA would give the facility to the park district, which would own and operate the aquatic center.

The St. Charles City Council and the St. Charles Park Board are formally supporting the project, having approved a joint proclamation citing both the services and the economic development the facility would provide.

SwimCity USA is a 501(c)(3) charity. The Community Foundation for the Fox River Valley, headquartered in Aurora, is handling donations and accounting for the project.

Cantrell said Swim City’s goal is to provide not only the money to build and equip the facility, but also to provide a maintenance fund, to help ensure there will be no tax burden to park district residents.

The key to financing the project, Cantrell said, will be securing the naming rights to the aquatic center by a major corporation.

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