Building will soon begin on $65 million Elkhart aquatic center

The greater Elkhart community is about to dive in and break ground on a $65 million aquatic, fitness, and community center.

While that may sound like a lot of money for a pool—wait ‘till you hear how much pool they’re buying.

“So there will be families that come here from Orlando, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia, and Phoenix, Arizona for their 13 year old daughter to swim in some national swim competition,” said Pete McCown with the Community Foundation of Elkhart County.

The natatorium is designed to be one of only four facilities of its kind in the nation. It’ll feature a 66 meter by 25 meter competition pool with an attached diving well with 5 meter and 3 meter platforms. “When you're talking about an Olympic sized swimming pool, that's pretty impressive nationwide,” said Mayor Tim Neese, (R) Elkhart. “It would be nice if we could house enough spectators for Olympic trials.”

With 1,200 seats, the Elkhart facility likely won’t be able to go for Olympic gold, but with a gym in the building as well, it should be good enough to attract 20 or so major regional competitions a year, bringing in some 36,000 annual visitors.

“That means they’re going to stay overnight on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and they’re going to eat in our restaurants and they’re going to know Elkhart as a place,” said McCown.

The facility will be operated by Beacon Health System which is contributing 16.2 million to the project. Beacon just built a health facility in Mishawaka, but the Elkhart facility will be three times bigger in terms of square footage (170,000 square feet).

The public/private partnership project calls for raising some $24 million in private donations. Today officials made a firm commitment to move ahead, even though the community fundraising is still $5 million short. “You know the first $19 million came in big significant chunks,” said McCown. “The next $5 million is going to require a greater degree of groundswell, so of the $19 million we’ve raised to date there’s about 50 people, couples, or corporations that represent that. It’s going to take 5,000 people to raise the last $5 million.”

While the project is noteworthy for its expected boost to tourism it is also designed to directly benefit the local community.

“If you’re a swimmer, that’s fine. If you can’t swim, we have a senior citizens facility for you and if you injure yourself we’re going to have a sports medicine facility, we’re going to have basketball and there are amenities that we might not have right now that might be forthcoming we’re going to include, “said Mayor Neese.

“And so the community space, what we call the community center does not require membership. So if you’re downtown and you want to meet for a book club or a bible study or play euchre you can use the community center,” said McCown.

The first construction contracts should be awarded in April with completion expected by the end of 2018.

The Elkhart Common Council is being asked to spend $2 million on a parking lot for the project, which has already been awarded a $9 million grant from Indiana's Regional Cities Initiative.

The Community Foundation of Elkhart County has also put together a $10 million endowment to cover the facility's operating expenses.

The Fitness, Aquatic, and Community Center will be built on the riverfront site of the former Elkhart YMCA, 220 E. Jackson.