The Deep End

A new nonprofit wants to build a $25 million swimming pool facility on Eureka's waterfront


Eureka waterfront, Samoa Bridge and Humboldt Bay Rowing Association Building - PHOTO BY ZACH ST. GEORGE
  • Photo by Zach St. George
  • Eureka waterfront, Samoa Bridge and Humboldt Bay Rowing Association Building

Mission: Raise $25 million in the next year in order to build an indoor fitness complex on the Eureka waterfront, complete with an Olympic-sized pool and a gymnasium.

Last week the Eureka City Council granted the aptly-titled Mission: Swimpossible nonprofit one year to develop plans and raise funding for the complex, which would be located on the 10-acre waterfront property adjacent the Samoa Bridge. Previously (though briefly) pursued by the Open Door Community Health Centers, the spot is currently occupied only by the Humboldt Bay Rowing Association building.

Swimpossible aims to fill the gap left by the closures of the Eureka High pool and the College of the Redwoods pool, and then some. If the group can pull it off -- and that's a big "if" -- the 70,000-square-foot complex will be operational by 2015. It should see an average of 750 locals streaming through the doors every day, according to Swimpossible President Brian Nunn.

With the recent failure of other local pools, many might question the wisdom of such ambitious plans. But Nunn insists that the key to success is going large. After consulting with USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming, Nunn became convinced that in order to be sustainable, it must be capable of hosting events and programs. 

The plans are indeed grand: The complex would include three pools. The smallest would be 15 feet by 20 feet. A second pool would measure 45 feet by 75 feet. The main pool would be an Olympian 75-by-164 footer, and the complex would feature a 1,000-seat arena, a restaurant, and a retail area.

Nunn said the complex could host more than 60 programs -- from youth swimming and elderly workouts to basketball and wrestling tournaments (in partnership with the Adorni Center) and even educational programs (with the Humboldt County Library). And, of course, major swimming events. As the only Olympic-sized indoor pool between San Francisco and central Oregon, the complex would draw large crowds into Humboldt multiple times a year, Nunn predicted.

By his projections, the complex would make more than $1.3 million every year through memberships, programs, and events. Subtract from that employee salaries and the estimated costs of operation, which together he placed at less than $900,000, and the nonprofit would be sitting pretty with $400,000 in profits every year. Those leftovers could subsidize swimming memberships for low-income families, Nunn said.

Next in his sales pitch, Nunn touted the potential for increased traffic into Old Town Eureka. He predicted that swim meets could bring 500 to 1,000 families to Humboldt for up to a dozen weekends every year. On average, he said, an out-of-town family spends $800 locally in a weekend.

Nunn's sales pitch continued: Businesses that donate will see new, lucrative advertising space, he foretold. Nonprofit health foundations would see their causes furthered, and private individuals would see their money going to a good cause. Plus, since Mission: Swimpossible is a nonprofit, contributions are tax deductible.

Nunn hopes to raise roughly half of the $25 million through grants and business donations and the other half from private donors. He's optimistic that Humboldt County residents will chip in $1 million.

He doesn't have any donors locked down yet, but he said that's not surprising considering that he wasn't able to confirm a location without approval from the city.

Eureka Chamber of Commerce CEO J Warren Hockaday said Nunn seems to have done his homework. "It looks like it could make a lot of sense," he said. "The devil is in the details, but there's a lot of promise."

Not everyone is convinced of the project's viability. Peter Pennekamp of the Humboldt Area Foundation said $25 million is a high initial hurdle, and he doubts too many out-of-county foundations would approve grants for this type of project. "Generally a pool is seen as a local amenity," Pennekamp said. "It's not a new, innovative, life-saving facility that just happens to be in Humboldt."

One of Nunn's arguments -- that the complex is needed to teach residents of our water-filled county how to swim -- is weakened by the presence of multiple smaller pools in the area. As a veteran of the nonprofit world, Pennekamp said it's risky to pin too much hope on non-local donors.

And he pointed out that many pools have been built elsewhere only to prove financially unsustainable, with the community ultimately paying for the shortfall though recreation taxes.

Nunn shrugs off talk of obstacles. "There's a lot to be said for having a group vision," he said. Nunn was headed with his family to Redding for his daughter's swim meet, where he said he planned on spending hundreds of dollars on hotels, restaurants, and a possible water park visit. His daughter, who will start high school next fall, is the one who inspired him to start Mission: Swimpossible. "My goal is that by her senior year she'll be swimming in the new pool," he said.


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