The Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex currently houses the International Swimming Hall of Fame
IHOF The Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex currently houses the International Swimming Hall of Fame

The long-time site of the International Swimming Hall of Fame will serve that purpose no more.

Plans to replace the 50-year-old Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex, which houses competition pools and a dive well, as well as the International Swimming Hall of Fame, have been canceled by the city.

The deal fell apart due to an estimated $41 million price tag for the pool and parking complex — a figure that had risen sharply from the original $32.4 million estimate in 2012. “That price tag kept growing and when we started looking at it, it just didn’t make economic sense for the city or even the users of the facility,” said Jack Seiler, mayor of Fort Lauderdale. “We want to make sure that the facility is not only accessible and available, but affordable.”

The most recent estimate was provided by the city of Fort Lauderdale as well as Recreational Design and Construction, a South Florida-based design firm. Where the city had been planning a full-scale demolition and rebuild, it now is entertaining plans to renovate the facility. “We’re looking to spend about half of what we had as a quote on the redo,” Seiler said.

Regardless of how the city of Fort Lauderdale chooses to move forward with its plans for the aquatic center, the International Swimming Hall of Fame was not happy with the entire process — or what Bruce Wigo, president and CEO of ISHOF refers to as a “debacle.” “I’m more than happy to use those terms because they’re accurate,” Wigo said. “It’s been 20 years since the city has been trying to figure out what to do [about that facility.]”
This marks another closing chapter in contentious dealings between Fort Lauderdale and ISHOF that date back to at least 2001. “There was a proposal presented to the city commission in 2001, which lost by one vote. And since that time the entire complex has been in what Dante would call ‘limbo’ as the facility continued to fall into disrepair,” Wigo said.

Reports from Fort Lauderdale’s Sun Sentinel said the bleachers were condemned in 2011 and the pools were in need of extensive work in order to meet competition guidelines. The pool is currently losing in excess of $1 million every year, returning less than 23 percent of operational expenses, said Wigo.

The most recent plans for the new swimming complex did not align with the Hall of Fame’s hopes.

“ISHOF’s vision has long been to not only have world-caliber competitive facilities, but combined with leisure components that will give residents and tourists alike a place to enjoy recreational swimming,” said Wigo.

The bid had included the museum honoring historic swimmers, as well as sanctioned pools that could be used for meets. But ISHOF wanted more consumer-friendly features as well.

“If you look at the pro basketball hall of fame, the pro football hall of fame — any modern hall of fame has something distinctive about their sport within the architecture and the design. They wanted to give us two floors in a parking garage,” he said.

ISHOF officials finally had enough, and in 2013 it formally declared plans to relocate to Santa Clara, Calif. The location was chosen because more ISHOF swimmers and swim coaches hail from that city than any other place in the world, Wigo said.

“Obviously, our preference would have been for them to stay in Fort Lauderdale,” says Seiler. “But that was an economic decision that they made.”

The departure coincides with the February 2015 expiration date of ISHOF’s lease at the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex. The Santa Clara facility is scheduled for completion in 2018, however ISHOF is remaining at the Complex in the interim. There is even a possibility of having a satellite Hall of Fame museum in Fort Lauderdale, Wigo said, if city officials and ISHOF can come to an agreement.