Belmont Pool Rebuild Project Inches Forward But Faces Funding Hurdles

Sean Belk

After several delays, the city’s $103-million project to build a state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor pool facility to be called the Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center started moving through the planning process this month.

However, the city has yet to secure more than $41 million needed for construction.

At its meeting on March 2, the Long Beach Planning Commission unanimously approved a final environmental impact report (EIR) for the project along with a site plan review, conditional use permit, standards variance and local coastal development permit entitlements.

As an appeal has been filed, the project’s EIR and entitlements will now go to the City Council most likely in May and then to the California Coastal Commission for final approvals, according to city staff.

The project aims to replace the former Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool facility, which was demolished two years ago after serving as a regional, national and world-class competitive swimming and diving pool facility for 47 years.

The beachfront facility was closed after studies deemed major seismic and structural deficiencies in the building and indoor pool were an imminent threat to public safety, according to city staff. While two outdoor pools are still open to the public, they are expected to be demolished as well.

Plans for the new facility call for a 125,500-square-foot indoor pool complex, nearly three times larger than the former facility, along with new outdoor competitive and recreational swimming pools, passive park space, a freestanding cafe and restrooms.

The new Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center will feature a contemporary elliptical design resembling a “bubble” to house the indoor pool area, called the natatorium, with seating for about 1,250 spectators. The outdoor pools will have temporary as-needed seating for nearly 3,000 spectators.

With a total height of 78 feet, the indoor pool structure will be comprised of a web of structural steel, infilled with ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), a low maintenance, largely self-cleansing plastic with properties similar to Teflon that would diffuse sunlight and reduce energy costs.

“The transparency of this roofing material and the rounded natural shape of the natatorium combine to create a contemporary iconic structure that will serve as a Long Beach landmark and a source of pride in the Long Beach community,” city planner Mark Hungerford told the planning commission.

The new pool complex, which architects said is being designed to be something “magical” on a 5.8-acre site in the tidelands area, will meet needs of local residents while providing a facility for competitive events for the region and the state, city staff said.

According to city staff, annual maintenance costs of the new pool complex are estimated to be nearly $1.3 million more than the former facility.

The project has been praised by competitive swimming organizations, property owners, stakeholders and residents, many who have used the former pool facility for decades.

Still, some residents object to the project’s plans, size and expense. Others have stated that such a large pool complex will obstruct views of the beach.

Opponents, including members of the Citizens About Responsible Planning (CARP), called for the pool complex to be built downtown, closer to low-income residents, instead of on the beach, where it may experience problems, such as liquefaction from sand erosion and flooding from sea-level rise.

Objectors also requested the city recirculate the EIR, stating that the project’s standards variance, which allows the 78-foot-high structure to exceed the city’s 25 and 30-foot height limits, violates coastal development requirements.

In addition, some opponents noted that a story pole, which the city installed at the request of a resident at a cost of $31,000, inadequately demonstrates the project’s size and was not included in the EIR.

Though the project has been appealed to the city council for final approval, the city has yet to resolve major funding challenges.

In an interview with the Beachcomber, Assistant City Manager Tom Modica said that the city has so far set aside a total of $61.5 million in tidelands oil revenue to cover construction of the new pool facility after a steep drop in the price of oil caused revenue to decline.

Through a prioritization process, the city allocated the remaining $39 million in tidelands oil revenue for improvements along the beach, including $4.7 million in upgrades to beach concessions, which, if approved, are expected to be completed by late 2018.

However, more than $41 million is still needed for the Belmont pool rebuild project, he said. Once the entitlement process is completed, the city will revisit final cost estimates. Modica said the city is working on several ways to derive funding without tapping into General Fund money.

The city, for instance, has already issued a request for proposals (RFP) to hire a consultant to start a professional fundraiser in which the city would be able to solicit donations from corporations and/or residents to fund the project, setting an ambitious fundraising goal of $25 million, he said. 

“We believe that there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity because of how special this facility is to the aquatics community not only in Long Beach but throughout the nation,” Modica said.

The city is also considering grant opportunities and other funding mechanisms, such as park bond funding through Los Angeles County’s voter-approved Measure A, while the city has earmarked $500,000 for the project through its infrastructure initiative, also called Measure A, he said.

Furthermore, Modica said additional tidelands oil revenue might become available in coming months.

“Oil prices are starting to rise a little bit,” he said. “So we’ll be looking over the next year to see if oil in the tidelands has the ability to help support the pool as well. We would not move forward until we have the identified funding.”



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