When it comes to hosting swim meets with 1,200 athletes and 3,000 spectators, organizers have very specific facility needs.
They want natatoriums with fast, deep, 50-meter pools that have eight to 10 lanes, as well as excellent air quality, lighting and acoustics, plentiful deck space for athletes, and lots of seating and parking for fans, says Chris Bertana, who coaches swim and dive teams in Chicago’s northern suburbs.
One of the state’s current top facilities is the Flames Natatorium at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), which has hosted the Warrior Games, Division I collegiate swimming and diving championships, state club meets, and even special events for kayaking and scuba groups.
Seating on three sides of the pool accommodates up to 1,500 fans; more seats can be added to the fourth side for even larger meets. “We treat every event differently,” says Bill Bavirsha, UIC’s associate athletic director of facilities. “We meet with each person that comes in and cater to what their needs are, and that keeps organizers coming back year after year after year.”
The natatorium is part of UIC’s larger sports complex, so teams have lots of room to spread out during down time. The city location is a big draw, as well.
Another popular venue is the Aqua Arena at the RecPlex, located 5 miles north of the state line in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. It hosts about 100 competitions annually, many for Illinois teams.
Built in 2010, it is a fast pool: Eight of 705 swimmers qualified for Olympic trials when USA Swimming’s Speedo Sectionals were held here in 2016. It has upper-level seating for 750 and lots of natural light.
Two state-of-the-art natatoriums soon will bring more state competitions home (besides Wisconsin, meets currently are held at large natatoriums in Indiana).
The FMC Natatorium at Ty Warner Park in Westmont is scheduled to open in early 2020. It will have a nine-lane competition pool with seating for 1,200 spectators on three sides, as well as an eight-lane, 25-yard training pool, a weight room, a swim shop, concessions and a parent lounge, among other amenities.
“Our vision is to provide our athletes with an elite and versatile facility for them to train in and compete at all levels,” says MaryAnn Kaufman, director of FMC Aquatic Opportunities, the not-for-profit organization developing the natatorium.
Ideally, the facility will host state swim meets and focus on helping athletes make time trial cuts so they can move up to Olympic swim trials. It will then work to attract national-level events that lock in venues years in advance to draw athletes from across the country.
Having an abundance of nearby hotel rooms, public transportation and nonstop, affordable flights through O’Hare and Midway airports will help in this effort. “That’s really good for visitors to our area. They can get here easily and affordably,” says Beth Marchetti, who heads the DuPage CVB.
St. Charles Aquatic Center at the East Side Sports Complex should also open within three years.
“The idea is to build a full-service natatorium in St. Charles,” says Jack Yetter, executive director of Swim City USA, the not-forprofit group raising funds for the public-private partnership. “There’s a real market need in Illinois, and given the right scale, the project will serve a lot of different communities.”
The center will have a 10-lane competition pool with upper-level seating for 900 that retracts when not in use. A second, recreational pool will have zero-depth entry. Yetter expects to host meets for Illinois Swimming, Masters Swimming, YMCA and local Division II and III colleges, as well as provide extensive community programming.
A feasibility study estimates the center will contribute nearly $60 million to the local economy in its first five years of operation.