A renovated 1980s building will get a new roof over an eight-lane pool devoted solely to competitive swimmers.
Jim Wise, a state champion swimmer and former captain of the University of Minnesota swim team, is the owner of Elsmore Aquatic Swim Shop. He’s rehabbing a former industrial/office building into the only privately owned Olympic-size pool in Minnesota.
As competitive swimming jumps off at the Olympic Games in London this summer, a unique building renovation will be underway in Apple Valley to help meet the growing demand of local young swimmers.
Jim Wise, owner of a Twin Cities swimming school and the Elsmore Aquatic swim shops, will spend $3 million to build the area's first privately owned, state-of-the-art competitive pool. The project will involve rehabbing a 1980s office-warehouse building just down the street from his Wise Swim School near the intersection of County Road 42 and Johnny Cake Ridge Road in Apple Valley.
Wise said booming demand and the scarcity of pools in Dakota County are the key reasons he wants to build a competitive swimming facility. Parents of young swimmers in that area now have to juggle their busy schedules to fit the ever-changing availability of a handful of pools, which are mostly in public middle schools.
"Like a lot of parents, I have kids who participate in multiple sports and scheduling is a challenge," Wise said. "But we're trying to take that out of the equation and make it very, very simple for the parents and at the same time grow the sport."
In April, Wise completed the $1.3 million purchase of the mostly vacant 40,000-square-foot former Venstar 15 building at 5885 149th St. W. He has received a $149,000 economic development grant from the city to help move ahead a with major reconstruction project, which includes putting a new steel roof over what will be an eight-lane, 25-yard pool within the building.
What makes the new Bluewater Aquatic Center economically feasible, Wise said, is that it'll be dedicated to competitive swimmers and won't have to be shared with community education classes and other users. The pool will accommodate 24 to 36 competitive meets per year and offer week-to-week predictability for events, a treasured amenity for busy sports parents.
Nicole Smith, program director of the Wise Swim School, said the location for the aquatic center made sense for the eight-year-old school, which hosts up to 2,000 kids per week.
"Our customers don't have to go far; it's a nice connection for them," she said. "They can still make the same drive they've always made to get there."
Wise credits Apple Valley Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland for championing the project through the city process at a time when there's a lot of competition for public dollars from higher-profile corporate applicants.
Bruce Nordquist, Apple Valley community development director, said the city's economic development authority unanimously approved the proposal, in part because it builds on a cluster of sports-related businesses at that corner, including TAGS Gymnastics and a Life Time Fitness facility.
"The Wise swim proposal really provided an opportunity to renovate a building that needed renovation," he said. "This seems to be a natural extension of what's already there and will provide pool time for teens and larger weekend events."
The Bluewater Aquatic Center will have a grand opening in September, Wise said -- ideally after Michael Phelps and the U.S. Olympic team have brought home another bumper crop of gold medals and have raised the profile of competitive swimming even higher.
"We're planning on having some Olympic athletes with connections to Minnesota here for the opening," said Wise, the former captain of the University of Minnesota swimming team.
Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer. He can be reached at 651-501-4931.