Add cliff diving and climbing to the amusement options at St. Paul's Como Park with a new pool's grand opening June 9.
The 40-year-old Como Park pool closed after the 2008 season amid debate over whether a new pool would even replace it. The city chose to do so and improvements at Como mark the third substantial upgrade to the city's pools. Last summer, Highland Aquatic Center debuted a popular slide, more parking, enhanced landscaping and new locker rooms and concessions. In 2008, the city opened Great River Waterpark, the revamped Oxford Pool at the Jimmy Lee Recreation Center.
The new Como pool will be unrecognizable to anyone familiar with the old one, which had a concrete slab surrounded by chain-link fencing. The $9 million, four-year effort has created a limestone-landscaped complex with grass and trees inside and out, giving the pool a bucolic air despite its busy location near the zoo.
The look is "less of a big concrete pad and more of a natural amenity in Como Park," said Brad Meyer, a city parks and recreation spokesman. The design grew out of a strong push from the neighborhood to keep the area looking green.
The new pool opens as the city faces competition from neighboring suburbs, including Eagan's sprawling Cascade Bay with its various amusement park features. "We're bringing that to the city," pool manager Marques Matthias said of Como's amenities, such as a zip line over the pool and cliffs for climbing and jumping.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman supported the infusion of cash into Highland and Como in recent years. "Pools serve both a recreational function and a health function," he said. "People need to cool down and access to water in an urban community is extremely important." The new Como pool, he said, "allows recreation of different types at the same times. Youth lessons can happen at the same time as activities for seniors."
The complex features a six-lane, 25-yard lap pool that has an attached diving well with a one-meter springboard and another two lap lanes. Basketball hoops face each other on the width of the pool in water shallow enough for younger swimmers to touch the bottom for pick-up games.
An adjacent pool with a zero-depth entry -- and with water guns, spouts, rides and short slides mounted along the deck -- is geared more toward families and younger visitors.
A lazy river for tubing takes both slower and faster routes and lets passengers float under a "waterfall." Families can ride in tubes built for multiple riders.
Como also will offer the most extended lap swimming hours at an outdoor pool in the region.
A dozen state-of-the-art digital cameras will watch the pool (although not the locker room) around the clock to guard against vandalism, record activities and serve as training tools for the guard staff.
St. Paul's strategy of upgrading its pools to compete with suburban amenities appears to be working.
In 2007, revenue at the Highland Park pool was $246,000. Last year it was $368,000, according to city figures. Without the investments, Meyer said, "We wouldn't have been competitive. I don't think we would have seen the improvement we have."
City Council members who live in the area say they like what they see at Como. Russ Stark has children ages 10 and 13 he said will bike to the pool.
"It looks great. There's a lot of pent-up demand and I think it's going to get swamped when it opens," he said.
Council Member Amy Brendmoen can see the new pool from her house. She, too, said she senses excitement about the project. Her 6-, 9-, and 11-year-old sons checked it out on Facebook and are excited to be regular users, she said, adding, "We're going to be raisins."
While Minneapolis has beaches at its lakes and many wading pools, it can't claim amenities like St. Paul or the Olympic length of the Highland pool.
Minneapolis closed the pool at Webber Park after the 2010 season for a $4 million redesign expected to finish mid-summer 2013. Jon Olson, a Minneapolis Park Board member, said the pool will be more of a chemical-free pond with a rubber liner and sandy shores.
"This is going to be a free facility. We're putting a beach experience in North Minneapolis," Olson said. "We're trying to provide some opportunities for folks on the north side."
Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035