EDC proposes solution to pool closure

Aquatics complex would provide venue for competitive, recreational and therapeutic swimming; could help attract sports tourism

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

The sudden closure of Pinney Pool has expedited an ongoing effort by the IWV Economic Development Corp. to launch an aquatics complex — which would not only provide a critical aspect of quality of life for the community, but also help promote the valley as a destination for athletic meets and tournaments.

At last week’s meeting of the Ridgecrest City Council, members of the public lined up to protest the loss of the only publicly accessible pool in the valley. The council entertained discussions to open a splash park as a temporary solution, but Scott O’Neil, who took the helm of the IWVEDC last month as its new executive director, asked the council to pause and consider a more comprehensive solution to the city’s lack of facilities.

“This initiative started well before I came on board with the EDC,” O’Neil told the News Review.

The first murmurings date back to 2010, when the previous city parks and recreation director proposed a multimillion-dollar complex. At the time, there was no funding identified for building or maintaining the facility.

Last year the EDC developed a sports commission after seeing the potential economic benefits to attracting tournaments to the local area. The city benefits through cash infusion and tax revenue boosts, while offering attendees a significant cost reduction to host events locally.

The main inhibitor was a lack of state-of-the-art facilities. Dan Spurgeon, who sits on the commission, said he saw an artist’s rendering for the complex while he sat in a meeting with the current city recreation director.

“I had heard a rumor about the pool being on its last legs, so I pitched this to the EDC as an economic development idea,” said Spurgeon. “I knew it would be a draw for tournaments, but just as importantly, I knew it would support quality of life for the community.

“The concept that quality of life has no impact on economic development is simply not true. If it came down to having affordable land, we would be overrun. It’s having these kinds of amenities that make a difference — especially in a rural market like this.”

Spurgeon said that the landscape is much different than it was seven years ago when the city first studied the issue. It has lost its pool, but it now has other partners and stakeholders who may be able to share the cost of a replacemen.

O’Neil said that he was skeptical about the project’s viability at first, but that was quickly dispelled upon deeper analysis.

The original impetus was to fill hotel rooms and restaurants on the weekend by attracting tournaments, races and other outdoor activities that brought visitors in from out of town.

“I had an ‘aha’ moment when I was out jogging on the holidays,” said O’Neil. In the early morning, hotel room parking lots are packed. By early afternoon, they are all but vacant.

“I talked to Spurgeon about that, and he said that we can bring people here overnight, but then they are gone in the morning for Death Valley or another nearby attraction.

“Ridgecrest is a great access point for people who love the outdoors in general.

“But it helped me realize that we don’t have much to keep people here.”

The commission is now reaching outside of the EDC to include voices from hospitality, city, health care, community and educational interests, said O’Neil, in order to make sure that diverse needs can be met.

“There are four vectors we are looking at — the requirement, the location, the financing and the management,” he said.

“We are also trying to understand exactly what we need and what we would like to have — which are two different answers. Once we understand the costs, we can plan more effectively.”

“The devil is in the details,” said Spurgeon. “But it’s about making the best use of our resources.”

O’Neil added that as a nongovernment agency, the EDC has greater flexibility for funding and managing the project.

“This is a hugely important issue for this community. It was certainly accelerated by the pool closing, but I think there was a need for this even before that happened,” said O’Neil.

“The most important thing to me is that we take the time, and put in the work, to find the right solution.”

Story First Published: 2017-02-24