Great Wolf Swim Team director and coach Dave Bentz has seen participation in competitive swimming nearly double in the past decade.
Whether the increased interest is due to swimmer Michael Phelps winning gold medals over and over in every Summer Olympics since 2004 — or parental fears of possible concussions from other sports — Bentz isn’t sure.
What he does know is that as the number of youth swimmers has risen, the number of Olympic-sized competition pools available for training and competition in the north and west metro areas has declined.
So Bentz is trying to turn that around. He has raised $1.2 million for a new Minnesota Aquatic Center in Coon Rapids that could host swim meets and serve as a training facility — “the ultimate facility for age-group swimming,” he said.
Bentz needs to raise another $500,000, along with $200,000 in cash to get the loan for the project. The entire project, which he wants to install at Hwy. 10 and Hanson Boulevard, would cost $10 million.
He chose the site in part because 77,000 cars pass by daily, making access convenient. “Any team is going to be able to come and host meets there,” he said.
Bentz runs the Great Wolf Swim Team, an age-group team that trains at pools across the metro, from his Brooklyn Center home. The team trains swimmers from childhood through high school, from novice to national caliber.
No lazy rivers or dinosaurs
Olympians swim in 50-meter pools, and youth amateur swimmers usually train and compete in those pools during the summer season.
But communities are replacing their 50-meter pools with more lucrative outdoor water parks. St. Louis Park used to have a regulation-sized pool but now has a shorter pool and a water park.
Demand is high for the 50-meter pools in Bloomington, New Hope, Richfield, St. Paul and Edina, thereby limiting access.
Edina, once home of the annual Aquatennial swim meet, won’t host meets because that would mean losing out on a weekend of water park revenue.
Bentz’s facility won’t have a lazy river or dinosaurs spouting streams of water in a wading pool. Instead, he wants to reconstruct one of the two identical 50-meter pools built for the June 2016 Olympic trials in Omaha in the Twin Cities.
One of the Omaha pools will be for competition, the other for warmups and cool downs, but Bentz said he just needs one. After the trials, they will be disassembled and then sold secondhand at a discount to two qualified communities.
The pools, built by the Italian company Myrtha, will be high-end and state-of-the-art but easy to move to a new home, Bentz said.
“Think of a set of hockey boards, that’s really all a pool is. Set it on an arena floor and put in a liner,” he said. “The whole thing can go through a standard door, that’s how far down they can break it.”
‘A good shot’ at a pool
What the pool won’t be is a money pit, he says, unlike municipal pools that are lucky to break even.
Operated around the clock as a training facility, Bentz expects the project to be in the black after three years; after that, he believes it will make a profit for owner-investors.
In his pitch to potential investors, Bentz shows renderings of a complex with comfortable stadium-style seats for 900 spectators, something that should please parents accustomed to sitting on uncomfortable bleachers for meets that can last all weekend.
The complex would include a therapy pool and space for dryland training and classes and have capacity similar to that of the pool at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.
Other communities are expressing interest in the Olympic pools, but Bentz said he’s built a strong relationship with Myrtha through his effort and expects to keep working with them until he lands one for the Twin Cities.
“I think I’ve got a good shot,” he said.