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A new aquatic center. A tourism draw to Niceville?

How much money would an aquatic center bring to the Niceville area over the next ten years if it were built? 

According to Charlie Perham, a consultant from Matrix Design Group, the firm brought in by the city to explore the economic feasibility of a regional aquatic center in Niceville, the city could see an additional $235 million in cumulative economic impact over a decade. Niceville City Councilperson Sal Nodjomian is the CEO of Matrix Design Group. 

Perham added the number would mean a total of around 450 jobs with about $19 million in salary (average pay = $42,222) would be added to the local economy when it’s all said and done. On average, by the end of the first decade, if the city of Niceville had an aquatic center, an additional 76,800 people would come to Niceville as sports tourists – a $32 million economic benefit for the city’s businesses. 

According to Perham, the facility would start in year one of its availability to the public to host about one event every month – and add two per year for a total of 32 events in year ten. 

“There are a coalition of local governments that support the Aquatic Center here,” Perham said, “When you say the Gulf Coast of Florida, people think of the white, sandy beaches, and things like that. Putting a national-level aquatic center that could host national-level events would bring some national prominence in addition to the Air Force Base, the other things that are nationally recognized here. That level of sports prominence is not to be understated.” 

The project, which in theory would include an Olympic-sized swimming pool and ancillary warm-up pool, would generate about $2 million in tax revenue for the city and $14 million in revenues for the State of Florida. Okaloosa County would clean up with the rest of the payments – collecting about $4 million over ten years.

Who's going to pay for an aquatic center in Niceville?

The economic benefits would bring tourism into the area and add about 450 jobs to the region that would pay somewhere in the low $40,000 range. But where would the money come from to pay for this project? After all, the project is supposed to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $15  to $20 million to construct. 

A $15 million project would cost every man, woman, and child in Niceville about $1,000. The total budget for the city of Niceville last year was $21,559,090.

According to Perham, the money could come from several places. The city would have to put up a significant amount of money, but the hope is,  at least from the consultant’s point of view, that the following organizations might put money into the pot:

• Triumph Gulf Coast – The capital that BP settled with the State of Florida after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 is administered by a board appointed by the governor. That fund has a total of $2 Billion to spend, in installments, until 2033.

RELATED: Triumph Gulf Coast awards huge grant to Northwest Florida State College.

• Walton County Board of County Commissioners – “Walton County, of course, will be very interested in supporting this because of the carryover benefits that deal with all of those state taxes we are talking about,” Perham said. 

• Okaloosa County Tourism Development Department – The recently-expanded Tourism Bed Tax District now includes Niceville, which means the tourism department has a vested interest in increasing tourism in the Niceville area. 

• Other local governments in the area – Because this facility would be usable by all of the high schools in the Okaloosa and Walton County areas regularly, those city governments and school districts would benefit from constructing a world-class facility in a central location. Dr. Bill McCartney, the author of a feasibility study concerning the aquatic center, believes it could be the facility for all people stretching from Pensacola in the west to Ocala in the east and include all the way up to Tennessee in the north.  

• Private donations – Just like what it sounds like, contributions from the community would supplement the facility’s construction.

Will a regional aquatic center in Niceville make money?

Not necessarily. “Aquatic centers in general are challenging,” Perham told the city, “There are aquatic centers in America that make money, lose money, and the most dominant factor is leadership.”

Councilperson Nodjomian added there could be a goal to keep the facility budget neutral. “Yes, it’s going to cost us as a city council. We’re going to put money out from our general fund to pay for the Aquatic Center director, to pay for chlorine for the pool, [to pay for] heating the pool, which I recall was the biggest expense, if I recall from the report. But, based on programming that you do there locally, to include swim clubs and everything else, you could generate revenue to, ideally, cover your overhead and make it a cost-neutral proposition.” Nodjomian went on to add that the goal is not to make money off the citizens who live in Niceville – but to generate money off the visitors from out of town who would use the facility. “[The report] didn’t study the nuts and bolts of operating expenses associated with an aquatic center. Our goal should allow us to make it as cost neutral as possible. But what do we operate that’s cost neutral,” Nodjomian asked rhetorically, “The skate park costs us money, the kid’s park costs us money, the senior center costs us money, right? We, as a city provide the services and they cost something. So we get to cost neutral because its programmable; good for us.”

Other benefits of a regional aquatic center in Niceville.

In addition to the financial benefits that Perham believes the city would gain from the construction of an aquatic facility in the town – he believes that the deaths of children from drownings in Niceville and the region would decrease. “It’s a tough topic to talk about, but there is a decline in drowning that is associated when an aquatic center goes into a community. You stand up a second grade and younger ‘Learn to Swim’ program. There’s math, there’s statistics there, and it has a direct impact. And so that’s not something that we overlook, either,” Perham said.

What would a regional aquatic center in Niceville be called?

Not for nothing – but the council ended the discussion about what to name the facility, should it be built. They agreed it shouldn’t have ‘Niceville’ in the name because they worried it would dissuade other cities, counties, and others outside of the Niceville area from donating and supporting the cause. “At our last steering committee meeting, we discussed that, although Niceville is behind the push it’s not going to have the name Niceville on it,” said Mayor Henkel, “I think we all agreed that it would be something like ‘Emerald Coast Aquatic Center’ or something like that. So again, we wanted to reflect that this is a regional aquatic center.”

The Leadup - Here's what we know so far about the Aquatic Center for Niceville:

The NWFL Regional Aquatic Center Committee is set to present its highly anticipated Economic Impact Analysis at the upcoming Niceville Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) meeting. The presentation will occur on June 13 at 5:00 p.m. in the Niceville City Council chambers. The Economic Impact Analysis, conducted by expert economists and consultants, will shed light on the economic benefits that the Regional Aquatic Center will bring to Niceville. We’ll bring you updates after the meeting. 

Supporters of the regional aquatic center want to build a state-of-the-art aquatic facility in Niceville. They hope it will serve the community with various aquatic programs, promote community well-being, and stimulate economic growth. 

RELATED: TOURISM TAX MONEY COULD MAKE AQUATIC CENTER A REALITY

Because they believe it would attract sports tourism to the region – supporters believe it is an eligible candidate to receive funding from the Okaloosa County Tourism Development Council – which would need to show it would bring in out-of-county dollars for them to fund it. 

This comprehensive study evaluates the project’s direct and indirect effects on local businesses, job creation, tourism, and overall economic growth. Key factors contributing to the project’s economic impact include increased visitor spending, employment opportunities, and tax revenue generation. The analysis aims to provide a clear understanding of the positive effects the Regional Aquatic Center will have on the community.

“We are excited to showcase the tremendous benefits the Regional Aquatic Center will bring to our community,” said Dr. Bill McCartney, spokesperson for the Regional Aquatic Center. “This analysis reaffirms our belief that the aquatic center will not only enhance residents’ quality of life but also stimulate economic development and position Niceville as a sports tourism destination.”

RELATED: Olympic-style swimming facility in Niceville? Here is one man’s plan to make it happen.

The Regional Aquatic Center will feature various amenities catering to all ages and skill levels. It will offer comprehensive aquatic programs, including swimming lessons, water aerobics, competitive swimming, and training. In addition to the direct economic impact, the center is expected to provide intangible benefits such as improved community well-being, enhanced health and fitness opportunities, and a social gatherings and events hub. The facility aims to foster community spirit, sportsmanship, and athletic achievement.

The upcoming Niceville CRA meeting will serve as an opportunity for community members and local businesses to learn about the findings of the Economic Impact Analysis. The Regional Aquatic Center Committee encourages attendance and participation in the discussion, as it believes that the aquatic center will play a crucial role in driving economic growth and benefiting the entire community.

17 Responses

  1. This is a wonderful idea. An opportunity for all. It is very difficult to swim in Niceville if you are an everyday swimmer. The open swim time and lack of membership verication creates frustration for paying members. The local swim teams dominate the one lap pool available. The only way to swim is to get to the pool before six am

    1. Very interested to see how this all turns out. The only other place I’ve heard of where you can swim early is at Liza Jackson in Fort Walton Beach.

  2. I’m interested in the possible Aquatic Center in Niceville, Florida. I had two daughters that swam USS Swimming at the Lakeside Swim Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Both girls swam at the USAFA: I have seen the benefits and dedication of young people associated with swim teams. These swim kids are excellent students. The idea of having a state of the art Aquatic Center would be a great asset to the Niceville community. Please include my information so I can attend future meetings.

  3. Was advertised to late to attend Definitely want this to come to Niceville

    1. Hi Carolyn, we’re sorry to hear that. We got the information here yesterday I believe. Hopefully we will be able to publicize and give people more notice next time around!

  4. Will there be diving facilities? Seems like it would be a shame to put all this money and effort and you still have to go to Panama City or UWF for diving.

  5. It would be great if the Aquatic Center was available to the local area Scuba Retailers for training new Scuba Divers, offer Kids Camps, and Instructor Training. We did this with our business in California through the different Aquatic Centers. We utilized carpets on the Pool Deck and Tank Boots both protect the pool from damage. Something to think about, especially in the area of added income.
    Thank you!

  6. I have searched online and cannot find any information on where they are planning to build this center. Niceville is a very small town and just thinking about “All the visitors and tourists coming to Niceville”, fills me with dread. I wonder if the other locals have forgotten what the traffic was like during the summer, before they built the Expressway to Mid Bay Bridge. If you know where they plan to build it, I would be interested in knowing.

  7. When my wife and I were living in Wake Forest, NC there was a facility called the Rex Wellness Center (a two story building) located next door to a large doctor’s complex. I think the doctor’s facility was roughly four stories high by about 10 offices wide. The Rex Wellness center has/had two floors. The second floor housed a gym-like conglomerate of exercise equipment in the middle with a 2-3 lane walking/jogging track around it. There are/were private treatment rooms also on the second floor for other wellness programs and counselling. The first floor had/has a Olympic sized swimming pool and two shorter depth pools for rehabilitation. These shorter pools were for foot, hip, knee, back treatments and also water aerobics was offered. When you walked in, there was a reception desk with at least two attendants. You were checked in with an electronic member card and provided with a towel, not sure about a lock. The attendants during any down time also maintained the washer & dryer, and folding of the towels. For the longest time, we were thinking of duplicating this facility near vacant land near the Twin Cities hospital but that was us dreaming of a modern indoor aquatic center location to service many needs for the neighboring populous. We’ve never done anything like that so lots to learn and mistakes possibly made, dropped the idea. However, now the opportunity has been recognized by other astute entrepreneurs and developers. Hoping this become a reality. Here’s their website: https://www.rexhealth.com/rh/hospitals-locations/profile/rex-wellness-center-wakefield/

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