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Greensboro Aquatic Center Drawing Big Events

Greensboro Aquatic Center
Jeff Tiberii

This weekend the Greensboro Aquatic Center hosts the first prominent event in its brief history. The facility is serving hundreds of local people each day while trying to also gain attention on the national swimming stage.

With water splashing in no particular direction, a coach’s voice echoes off the windows and young swimmers wearing yellow caps touch the wall and reverse course. About three dozen children are in the water for afternoon practice at the new Greensboro Aquatic Center. The facility has three pools, a diving well and even classroom space. The aquatic center is adjacent to the Greensboro Coliseum. It opened back in August and Manager Susan Braman says it serves more than 700 people each day.

Susan Braman: "It’s been a whirlwind, but I think that we’ve exceeded expectations in opening on time and staying under budget and having the systems in place that have been pretty flawless."
The 19 million dollar price tag was paid for largely by voter approved bonds. The aquatic center has open swim, daily team practices, and is partnering with the Guilford County schools to try to teach every second grader to swim. Club Coach John Bruenning says all of the different programs are what set the aquatic center apart.

John Bruenning: "This facility is very forward thinking. A lot of times people will wait until there is a need for it, and they’re going one step ahead. So it is more proactive than reactive. It’s a very forward thinking thing and I think in the long run it’s going to pay off for the city."

Braman, the facility manager, says one of her biggest challenges has been striking a middle ground between local needs and the national spotlight.

Braman: "I think we have a nice balance actually, of the local events that are helping our community with our high schools and the teams we support. And those that are going to bring such a nice influx of money to the community for the restaurants and the hotel people."
There are already 49 events scheduled at the aquatic center, with virtually every weekend through next September booked. The meets range from high school competitions to a nine-state sectional meet in March with 900 swimmers; to a diving championship in August featuring performers, fresh off the 2012 London Olympics. This week the first significant event for the facility begins with the US Olympic Trials in Synchronized Swimming.

Henri Fourrier: "It’s a real small event. There is like 40 athletes that will be vying for 10- to 12 spots on that team. So it’s going to be small, but we see it as very prestigious."
Henri Fourrier is President of the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau. He says headline events well help build the image of the venue, and competitions bringing thousands of visitors to the region will generate an economic spark.

Fourrier: "We’re hoping to get a whole new audience exposed to our community and spend their dollars, visiting throughout downtown, up and down high point rd and all of the great things Greensboro has to offer."
According to Fourrier, larger meets could have a regional impact of several million dollars. Braman estimates the center will make 20 to 25 thousand dollars from the synchronized swimming event. This year she expects the facility to turn a profit because there won’t be many maitenance costs and they’ve booked so many events. She says in future years the center will have a deficit of about 400 thousand dollars uh year. Braman says that shortfall would be significantly less than other swimming facilities in the region. She says the Greensboro aquatic center benefits from sharing some maintenance and administrative staff with the coliseum.

Braymin: "We feel like we’ve saved several hundred thousand in salaries. We have three permanent full-time employees, with the other 50-75 are what we would call roster, part-time employees."
Looking ahead Braman says she continues to apply for marquee national events. Earlier this week the Aquatic Center was awarded the ACC Conference Championships in three upcoming years. In the meantime the venue is ready to host its first national event. Music, choreography, costumes and smiles will be on display as the US Olympic Synchronized Swimming Trials get underway.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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