Clock ticking on Natatorium decision, Olympic trial hangs in balance

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Even with millions of dollars in needed repairs and an uncertain future, the IUPUI Natatorium continues to be a player in the national swimming and diving scene.

USA Diving has announced that Indianapolis and Atlanta are the finalists vying for the 2016 Olympic Diving Trials, which will be held in June2016.

“We believe Atlanta and Indianapolis presented an overall package that will best meet the needs of our athletes and our vision for our 2016 Trials,” USA Diving CEO Linda Paul said.

But if Indianapolis is going to beat out Atlanta, USA Diving will have to be convinced that Indiana University—which owns and controls the IUPUI Natatorium—is serious about making the $17 million to $20 million in upgrades needed at the facility on the west side of downtown.

Tom Morrison, IU’s vice president for capital planning and facilities, said he’d like to have a plan in place by the end of this year. He may not have quite that long if Indianapolis is going to nab this event. USA Diving is set to announce the host of the 2016 Olympic Trials on Dec. 10.

Sources familiar with the situation said Morrison is preparing to roll out a plan, and that officials of the National Institute for Fitness and Sport, which already operates a fitness facility near IUPUI, is poised to take over daily operations of the Natatorium.

NIFS officials, however, have made it clear they won’t be financially responsible for the upgrades to the facility. Though a plan appears to either be in place or very nearly so, no one is officially letting on.

Indiana Sports Corp. CEO Allison Melangton is confident uncertainty surrounding the venue won’t hamper Indy’s efforts to land the 2016 Olympic Diving Trials.

“I think we will be comfortable in the plan and in the process by [Dec. 10],” Melangton told IBJ on Tuesday.

Melangton added that officials for USA Diving and ISC are “keenly aware” of the repairs and upgrades needed at the 4,700-seat Natatorium and the progress on the situation with IU is “being communicated to [USA Diving].”

Melangton told IBJ that while the ISC is not in a position to contribute money toward the Natatorium upgrades, she said she would consider approaching her organization’s corporate partners for help.

While the Natatorium’s pools and diving well are in good shape, the roof needs to be replaced, as do the heating and air-conditioning and electrical systems, Morrison said. Officials for USA Swimming said the facility needs modern video and scoreboards and other amenities common in newer facilities.

IUPUI’s Natatorium has been the site of so many big events that it’s almost easy to take them for granted. But competition just to become a finalist for an event such as the 2016 U.S. Diving Olympic Trials is intense.

In all, 19 cities bid for the event. The list was cut to six this summer. Last month, USA Diving announced four semifinalists were eliminated from the bidding process.

Tucson, Ariz.; Riverside, Calif.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Minneapolis didn’t make the final cut. All four of those cities—especially Greensboro—pulled out all the stops to get the event. And with good reason.

The nine-day Olympic Diving Trials will have a healthy multi-million-dollar economic impact on the host city and draw millions of eyeballs from a national telecast.

Six days of the meet, which will decide who competes at the 2016 Rio Olympics, will be broadcast on NBC.

The fact that USA Diving has chosen Indianapolis as a finalist despite not knowing who will be running the venue at the time of the competition and without a commitment that upgrades will be made speaks to the overall strength of Indianapolis’ bid and the history of the still-vaunted Natatorium.

In October, Indiana Swimming Event Director Arlene McDonald told IBJ: “We’re in a holding pattern in terms of going after and hosting the very highest-level events.”

The Natatorium, it appears, could be pulling out of its holding pattern. The fact that USA Diving is willing to make Indianapolis one of two finalists for its crown jewel event clearly is an encouraging sign.

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