• Below: See the projected layout of the Omaha Multisports Complex
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Omaha will keep a pool from the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials because two business people, eager to improve sports facilities for local youths, were determined not to let it get away.
Lisa Roskens, CEO of Burlington Capital Group, and Mike Cassling, CEO of CQuence Health Group, announced Friday that the Swim Trials warm-up pool will anchor a facility called the Omaha Multisports Complex. The structure, at a location yet to be determined, also will include six indoor tennis courts, a soccer field and an eight-lane running track.
Cassling had become involved late in an effort to acquire a pool used in the 2008 Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha. Not only would it be cool to have such a high-profile pool, but Omaha has a shortage of competition pools that are 50 meters long, the size used in national and Olympic meets.
That effort fell short, partly because backers hadn't nailed down such details as where the pool would go.
Several months ago, with this week's Olympic Trials growing closer, Cassling heard from Roskens.
“She said, ‘I know you're interested in the pool, and I'm interested in tennis,' ” he said Friday.
They also share a keen interest in improving sports opportunities for not only elite athletes, but youths across metropolitan Omaha.
They talked with community stakeholders and sports experts, hired an architect, put together a proposal for a sports complex and began raising $1 million to buy the pool. They haven't settled such details as where the pool would go, and they're still raising money to build the complex.
But in order to make sure the opportunity to acquire a Swim Trials pool didn't slip away again, Roskens said, they're doing it “maybe a little backward” by acquiring the pool first, and then looking for a site.
Said Cassling, “It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Omaha to be able to have a world-class pool like this.”
They did not have a cost estimate for the total project yet, or a formal timeline, although they said they hoped construction would begin by 2014.
One possible site is on land the University of Nebraska at Omaha owns south of 67th Street and West Center Road, the former Chili Greens golf course.
“It would be a wonderful location,” Roskens said. “It's central. It's accessible.”
|OMAHA MULTISPORTS COMPLEX|
|One possible site for the Omaha Multisports Complex is on land the University of Nebraska at Omaha owns south of 67th Street and West Center Road, the former Chili Greens golf course.|
It has attributes backers want for the complex's location: good access for large volumes of traffic that would be attracted to major national events, and a central location in Omaha.
“We want it to be accessible to all of Omaha,” Roskens said.
She said there have been no formal discussions with UNO officials. University officials were unavailable for comment Friday.
“We joked with them: Well, aI can solve all your real estate problems with this great project,” Roskens said.
UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts and other university officials have been mulling questions about athletic facilities, including whether to try to build an on-campus hockey arena and hockey practice facility.
“They're in the middle of trying to figure out what they're doing with hockey,” Roskens said.
The complex announced Friday includes several elements — swimming pool, tennis courts, track and soccer field — that are in an athletic facilities concept plan for the former Chili Greens site that has been floated at UNO, although the university has stressed it's only a concept. That concept also included the idea of converting UNO's on-campus football stadium into a soccer stadium.
The similarities weren't by design, Roskens said. Rather, the sports complex is meant to address needs in the community.
“We started out with a tennis and swimming complex,” she said.
But as backers discussed it, they decided they could also address other sports as well.
“For track and soccer, really good competitive venues are lacking,” Roskens said. “We thought, as long as we're trying to do this, let's do it all.”
Asked whether, joking aside, the complex really could solve some problems for UNO, Roskens said there's usually a grain of truth in humor. She said UNO could share the sports complex.
“There's enough room in that facility for several institutions to share it,” she said.
The complex would be owned and managed by a nonprofit organization.
Such organizations as universities, high schools, swim and tennis clubs and other sports groups could use it.
U.S. OLYMPIC SWIM TRIALS
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Plans call for possible seating of 1,800 to 2,000 in the pool facility. That would allow Omaha to go after events on the scale of a USA Swimming Grand Prix or regional or national meets.
But Roskens said the bigger priority is addressing a “gap in athletic facilities” in Omaha.
“We have so many young athletes who make their start in Omaha, specifically in tennis and swimming, but who don't have the facilities to train through the winters,” she said. “We have the coaches. We have the talent. We don't have the buildings.”
Drawings showed a 52-meter pool with two moveable bulkheads, allowing for the pool to be configured at 50 meters, 25 meters or 25 yards.
It would be 25 meters wide, which would accommodate 10 lanes.
No other pool in the Omaha area can match the combination of that length and width.
Omaha has only three 50-meter pools — at UNO, at the Jewish Community Center and at Hitchcock Park. None can host major meets, and they don't come close to meeting the demand for practice time, said Tom Beck, head coach of Greater Omaha Aquatics.
“There isn't very much training opportunity in the 50-meter length pools,” Beck said.
Most training locally is done in 25-meter pools, but big regional, national and international competitions are in 50-meter pools.
“This would allow our local kids to train at that length,” said Beck, in addition to attracting major competitions to Omaha.
“For people involved in competitive swimming, this is a huge announcement,” Beck said. “It's where someone's going to take your sport and boost it up to a much higher level.”
Roskens and Cassling, who was a 1982 All-American while swimming for Omaha Westside High School, said they're confident the plan will become reality.
“Everybody we've talked to is thrilled with the idea,” Cassling said. “We're not doing this just for the elite athletes, but for all the kids of Omaha. We want to make sure that all of Omaha has access to world-class facilities.”
The pool, for example, could be used for swimming lessons when it's not being used for competitions, he said.
Roskens said some people may ask, “Why athletics and not academics or the arts?”
“To me, a complete life involves athletics, academics and the arts,” she said. “All three legs of the stool need to be strong for our community to thrive.”
Omaha has made “huge strides” in recent years in facilities for academics and arts, Roskens said.
“The place where we've fallen behind is our permanent athletic institutions,” she said.