Three major heavyweights of diving in the United States have sent letters to the mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Jack Seiler, in a last-ditch effort to keep the International Swimming Hall of Fame in town and to alter the plans for the new pool planned for the complex.
Tim O’Brien and his father Ron O’Brien, both former Olympic diving coaches, co-signed one letter that they referred to as a “final attempt” in the “bottom of the ninth” to keep the International Swimming Hall of Fame, located in Florida since 1965, from moving to Santa Clara, California.
The O’Briens have both also spent time coaching at the facility.
The other letter is signed by Stephen Foley, the high performance director of USA Diving. Foley doesn’t specifically reference the move of the Hall of Fame, but instead focuses on the new pool planned to be built at the complex. Foley, who says he has the backing of several international coaches who were at the recent USA Diving Grand Prix event there, points out a specific design flaw that he views as a huge concern: the plan to build the diving pool on top of a three story parking garage. Foley says that conversations with Christopher Landsea of the National Hurricane Center illuminate the risk of wind speeds at what would be roughly 70 feet in the air for the 10 meter platform.
Estimates say that at that height, wind speed would increase by 50% – meaning a 20 mile per hour wind would become 30 miles per hour, according to Foley’s letter.
The City of Ft. Lauderdale, in an article in the Sun-Sentinel, says that USA Diving has approved the plan for the new diving facility, however.
“I want to make sure we’re good, that this doesn’t surface as a problem,” said Seiler to the Sun-Sentinel in response to the complaints. Commissioner Bruce Roberts, however, tempered it with saying that he didn’t want the aquatic center to run well over its budget.
The Sun-Sentinel also reports that now the plan will include an indoor diving dry-land training facility, adding $2.1 million to the cost of the new complex.
See both letters, in their entirety, below.
July 4, 2014
Mayor Jack Seiler
City of Fort Lauderdale
100 North Andrews Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301
cc: Bruce Wigo, Executive Director, ISHOF
ISHOF Board of Directors
Commissioner Bruce Roberts
Commissioner Dean Trantalis
Commissioner Bobby DuBose,
Commissioner Romney Rogers
Cynthia A. Everett, City Attorney
Larry Barszewski, Sun-Sentinel
Linda Paul, Executive Director, USA Diving
Steve Foley, USA Diving, High Performance Director
Dear Mayor Seiler, City Commissioners and interested parties,
This letter, in the bottom of the ninth inning, is our final attempt to:
1) Encourage the City of Fort Lauderdale and the International Swimming Hall of Fame to re-enter negotiations to keep ISHOF in Fort Lauderdale
2) Encourage the City of Fort Lauderdale to re-evaluate current plans for the construction of a new aquatic center. The current plans will place competitive diving platforms on top of a 4-story parking structure putting the 10 meter platform over 70 feet in the air. The current plan for the new aquatic center are deeply flawed, will make it difficult to attract world-class events and contain significant safety concerns.
We wish to be on record in regards to our feelings and concerns regarding the above issues and to also know that we did all we could to prevent both projects from moving forward.
My father, Ron, and I directed the Fort Lauderdale Diving Team from 1990-2006 at the Hall of Fame Aquatic Complex. During our time there, it was the place to train if you were a diver in the United States and you had Olympic dreams. We also trained divers from all over the world who were attracted to our city to train with us, see the International Swimming Hall of Fame and enjoy the beaches. To provide a brief history, my father is an eight-time Olympic Coach having coached five Olympic Champions including 4-time Olympic Champion Greg Louganis and seven other Olympic Medalists. I coached the 2000 U.S. Team in Sydney and directed the Fort Lauderdale Diving Team from 1996 to 2006 after his retirement. We both led FLDT to multiple U.S. National Team Championships and Olympic medalists. In addition, countless local young men and women came through our programs and went on to earn college scholarships.We are writing to you because we care deeply about these two issues.
A recent article that appeared in the Sun-Sentinel by Larry Barszewski implied that ISHOF just suddenly decided to leave the City because plans for the new facility did not allocate enough space for ISHOF. The fact is that the relationship between ISHOF and the City has been deteriorating for some twenty years dating back to the days when Sam Freas was the Executive Director of ISHOF and Jim Naugle was the Mayor. This “divorce” did not just happen overnight as the article suggested and the limited space allocated to ISHOF in the plans for a new aquatic center were the result of a relationship that was in decay for years.
Having been in and around ISHOF and that facility for nearly 50 years, it is our belief that no one knows the situation, the politics and numerous revisions of plans for a new aquatic center any better and our plea to you is not just as former coaches who built the diving programs in Fort Lauderdale, but as two people who have loved the International Swimming Hall of Fame for decades. We spent so much time there dating back to the 1960’s that it is our second home and the people that work there today are like family to us and to the aquatic world.
We, along with the entire aquatic community, are heartbroken that the Hall of Fame is planning to leave Fort Lauderdale. We do not care, at this point, how or why this happened nor do we wish to blame anyone. The relationship needs to be mended. The International Swimming Hall of Fame has been a mainstay in Fort Lauderdale for 50 years. Fort Lauderdale is the center of the aquatic community and with the departure of ISHOF, the City will lose room nights and tourist dollars forever. With the pending plans for a new facility that does not meet world class standards, the days of attracting world class events, banquets and gatherings that benefit the City will come to an end. The worldwide aquatic community is up in arms about the new facility plans and the departure of ISHOF. I would urge Mayor Seiler and Mr. Wigo and the Board of ISHOF to reconvene and discuss doing the right thing for the City of Fort Lauderdale, the aquatics community, the local hotels and the many restaurants and businesses who benefit from the presence of ISHOF, and the people worldwide who believe that ISHOF and Fort Lauderdale belong together.
That being said, my father and I are vehemently opposed to ISHOF leaving AND the current plans to build a diving complex with a 10 meter diving platform on top of a 4-story parking garage. We were so concerned about it from a safety standpoint that my father and I both met with city officials and engineers months ago to voice our concern. We also know from talking to the swimming experts that the current plan to have two-50 meter swimming pools on two separate levels of the complex is not acceptable for running events of any kind let alone a world class event. The fact is that the City has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on devising plan after plan for nearly twenty years now and with each new city commission, or new Mayor, new plans are thrown out and new ones are evaluated. The current plan is the worst we have seen since we were coaching there and talks began to rebuild the complex. There is a better plan; one that creates a world-class swimming and diving venue, meets the city’s needs and keeps ISHOF here. It can be done. Why would you spend money on something that falls short?
Having trained world class divers in the facility, the wind was always an issue. Even on normal days, training right on the beach is difficult due to the wind. It can be a distraction and a safety issue for the most seasoned athletes. The 10 meter platform is the top platform that you see the divers competing on during the Olympic Games and it is 33 feet above the surface of the water. Putting a 10 meter platform on top of a 4-story parking garage will put it over 70 feet above the ground and subject divers to extreme winds from all directions. It is not only a safety issue but it would prevent world class diving events from being held here simply because they would not be able to guarantee an event that could be held without the threat of high winds. It is simply a very bad plan and could ultimately lead to legal issues for the City in the event of an injury. City engineers listened to us in a two-hour meeting several months ago and alternative ideas were discussed, but we were ultimately ignored and they reverted back to the current plan. In addition, it is our understanding that USA Diving continues to have concerns over the current plans. We have attached a letter from Steve Foley, USA Diving’s High Performance Director, dated June 10, 2013.
I have lived in Fort Lauderdale, Harbor Beach, Las Olas and the east side of town for 25 years. I know how things work, where people go, and the issues that we face during big events on the beach. The planned parking garage on that site will sit empty for 350 days of the year except for the 4th of July, Boat Show, Boat Parade, Air & Sea Show and the annual music festival events when parking is at a premium. Most patrons to the beach on the 350 “normal” days, will park on Las Olas and A1A adjacent to the Elbo Room as they do now. In fact, why is there no proposal to build a parking garage at the corner of A1A and Las Olas where the 5 story Holiday Inn and The Button used to stand? In addition, it is our personal belief that the parking garage that would sit under this new aquatic facility, will become a shelter from the rain and a place to sleep for the numerous homeless men and women along the beach and in our City.
It is our sincere belief that entire plan needs to be put on hold in order to re-evaluate what they are doing and re-commit to a top notch venue built with the input of experts in the design of these types of facilities. The current plans are not for a world-class facility regardless of what the City is telling everyone. It is a $35,000,000 calamity (and potential homeless shelter) waiting to happen. We believe it is in the best interest of the City of Fort Lauderdale to pause, sit down with ISHOF and come up with a plan to allow them to stay and to re-visit talks with architects, engineers and aquatics experts in order to design a true world-class facility that will attract:
- world class swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo teams and events
- television networks and cameras
- the world of aquatics to fill hotel rooms and restaurants
- youngsters to top notch swim and dive programs
- ISHOF and its annual events
- the surrounding community
We believe there is a way to accommodate all the needs of ISHOF, the City, and still build a world-class facility worthy of our heritage and the pride of the worldwide aquatic community. We will make ourselves available to meet with you and to help with the process. We urge you to call a meeting of interested parties and consultants on world class facility design and to find a way to keep ISHOF in its home city as part of a new facility that is truly world class.
Tim O’Brien Ron O’Brien
2000 U.S.A. Olympic Coach 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992 1996
U.S.A. Olympic Coach
Mayor J. Seiler
100 North Andrews Avenue,
Fort Lauderdale FL. 33301
10th June 2013
Dear Mayor Seiler and City Commissioners,
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
Re: Latest Plans for the Fort. Lauderdale Aquatic Center – Diving Pool
USA Diving has recently completed our annual USA AT&T Grand Prix event at the Ft. Lauderdale Aquatic complex. This was the 40th time that this fabulous international event has been conducted at this facility and the history of the event with so many Olympic Champions over the decades participating (and often winning the event) is proof that this international diving event is one of the most prestigious Grand Prix competitions on the FINA calendar.
During the 2013 event, the latest plans of the proposed new aquatic facility were posted on the wall opposite the diving boards for all to see and although the plans are exciting and certainly impressive at a glance, after some careful scrutiny it became apparent, from a Diving perspective, that the design of the diving pool on top of a three (3) story car park would be a major catastrophe.
As the pool currently stands, the 10 meter platform is approximately thirty-three (33) feet above ground level but if it were to sit on top of the proposed 4 story car park, then suddenly the 10 meter platform is close to seventy plus (70+) feet above ground level. The 10 meter platform on the best of days is a windy area for the divers, especially when the wind blows off the ocean and more often than not, along the inter-coastal. The wind factor for our divers’ safety from a platform some seventy (70) feet in the air would be hazardous and at times dangerous.
We have spoken with Christopher Landsea who is the Science and Operations Officer for the National Hurricane Center in Miami and based on his expertise has advised that the wind gradient from 10 to 20 meters would increase by 50%. Thus a 10mph wind would become 15mph and 20mph would be 30mph, etc.
I also spoke with many of the international coaches and team managers during the 2013 USA Grand Prix event and they expressed their concern with the design and some went as far as stating they would not come back to compete at the venue if the 10 meter platform was that high above the ground purely for their athletes’ safety concerns. (I have attached a letter from the British Director)
USA Diving would love to see the diving pool built at ground level and perhaps the car park could be built around the diving pool acting as a wind buffer and creating an even better diving venue for local and international competitions, especially if the car park was located behind the 10 meter platform? Our current fear is that if the diving pool is built on top of the three (3) story car park, we will be unable to conduct domestic and/or international competitions, selection trials and camps as we had originally planned. Ft. Lauderdale is the greatest venue for an international diving meet and it would be disappointing if due to a design flaw we could not bring the world’s best to compete as we have for the past 40 years.
Should you have any further questions please feel free to discuss with myself or USA Diving facility expert, Don Leas.
[email protected] Cell: (928) 978-2168 or Home: (814) 379-3920
High Performance Director