The Northside Swim Center. Courtesy photo.

For the next three weeks, San Antonio will be the epicenter of the swimming world.

San Antonio Sports and Northside Independent School District (NISD) welcomed USA Swimming and more than 800 of the best up-and-coming swimmers in the country for the Speedo Junior National Championships on Thursday at the Northside Swim Center.

Next week, the site expects to bring in 1,000 swimmers — including 18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and nearly 40 current U.S. Olympic swimmers — for the Phillips 66 National Championships. Soon after that, the site will host the World Deaf Swimming Championships.

It’s no wonder that San Antonio Sports is referring to 2015 as the “year of swim” for the city.

None of this would have been possible without the world-class Northside Swim Center and the community support that made it happen. In 2008 an overwhelming majority of voters passed four proposals to extend the use of visitor taxes to fund $415 million dollars in community improvements. One proposal centering on improving youth and amateur athletic facilities helped fund the Northside Swim Center and 12 other facilities. It passed with 71.7% of the vote and the center was completed two years ago.

Each of the 13 facilities is partnered with a nonprofit or school district — Northside Swim Center, for example, is partnered with NISD and San Antonio Sports — which ensure that the facilities are used to enrich and serve their communities in addition to whatever commercial value they may provide. Through a voter-approved bond issue, NISD contributed about $17 million, a majority of the Northside Swim Center’s total cost of $19.5 million Northside Swim Center. Bexar County contributed about $2 million to the project.

While there is no estimate yet available for the WDSC event, San Antonio Sports projects the two upcoming national championships along with the April 2015 U.S. Masters Swimming Championship to have a $9.2 million dollar economic impact on the city.

“This is a very tangible result for the voters to see that these facilities are paying off. The reason Michael Phelps is going to be swimming in San Antonio is because the voters made it happen back in 2008 when they approved the funding to make this facility a reality,” said Mary Ullman Japhet, senior vice president of San Antonio Sports.

An aerial view of the Northside Swim Center. Courtesy photo.
An aerial view of the Northside Swim Center. Courtesy photo.

Japhet cites San Antonio Sports’ bid last year for the 2016 Olympic Trials as the moment the world swimming community began to take notice of the new facilities. Although San Antonio lost the bid to Omaha, Nebraska, Japhet said the swim community took notice of the unique venue being built in San Antonio. That interest has led to this series of major championships and more.

This April, when Northside Swim Center hosted its biggest event yet in the U.S. Master Swimming Championship, NISD Aquatics Director Scott Zolinski said he heard “rave reviews” about the facility from people from all over the country, many of whom had seen swim centers across the globe.

The outdoor Northside Swim Center was built adjacent to the NISD Natatorium and features state-of-the-art design and technology and shaded seating for 2,500 people.

“Really, there’s not a genuine pool in the country like ours, except Palo Alto, California,” Zolinski said.

Together the NISD Natatorium and the Northside Swim Center offer Olympic-length indoor and outdoor pools, an Olympic-quality dive well, and an outdoor instruction pool.

Perhaps the best sign of the center’s growing reputation was USA Swimming’s selection of Northside Swim Center to be the domestic training site for the for the 2016 Olympic team next summer before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s not a competition, but it’s quite a measure for San Antonio to host the Olympic Team here prior to going to Rio,” Zolinski said of the selection. “(USA Swimming does) due diligence in selecting the appropriate locations for these events. We’re way up on their scale, and I like that.”

While next summer’s camp will mostly be closed, there will be one day where the public will be able to attend a practice and interact with the team.

One key factor that went into the team’s selection process was the quality of our outdoor facility, as the Olympic swimmers will compete outdoors in Rio.

“Being able to train that way (outdoors) is going to be critical, and our facility lends itself to that,” Zolinski said.

Amid all the economic success of the stadium, NISD and San Antonio Sports make sure the Northside Swim Center continues to serve the community that supported it.

“They’re having an enormous economic impact, but even more so they’re having a terrific impact on the children and families in our community who can use these facilities every day,” Japhet said. “The facility is not just about these big championships: every day there are swim clubs and swim teams, and high school teams, and citizens going to do their laps. The pool is used every single day.”

Tickets for the Speedo Junior National Championships and Phillips 66 National Championships are on sale now at sanantoniosports.org. There will also be live webcasts of the events at usaswimming.org.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this project misidentified Bexar County as the main contributor of funds the the Northside Swim Center project. 

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Hunter Bates

Hunter Bates is a native San Antonian. He teaches developmental English at Palo Alto College, where he also directs the student literary journal. Make a fast friend: talk to him about the Spurs, '60s music,...