By Lisa Vernon Sparks,

Daily Press 3/13/2021

HAMPTON — The hum of construction rigs could be heard Friday along Coliseum Drive and Pine Chapel Road, where the foundations of Hampton’s aquatic center are being built.

A ceremonial launch to construction of the $29.5 million center — now dubbed the Hampton Virginia Aquaplex — is scheduled for next month but crews from Williamsburg-based Henderson Inc. have started.

It’s the first tangible visual of Hampton’s quest to have the two-story, 64,000-square-foot center on a 5-acre parcel up and splashing by late summer 2022.

The aquatics center is among four projects — including the $3.8 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project — featured next week during a two-day virtual economic opportunities event hosted by Hampton and Norfolk.

“It is centered around educating small, minority, and woman-owned businesses that might be able to compete for a portion of the (HRBT) project,” Hampton economic development director Chuck Rigney said in an email. “I am really pleased to be working with my old friends from Norfolk as this project is truly regional in its scope and impact — especially to our two localities. Regionalism is strongly supported by city leadership and the council.”

Hampton’s aquatics center pursuit began years ago, when the city decided to create other avenues to tap into the lucrative sports tourism market, beyond what it had with Boo Williams Sportsplex and the Hampton Roads Convention Center.

The genesis of this venue began to take shape when design team Clancy  &  Theys  Construction Company of Newport News and Williamsburg-based GuernseyTingle submitted an unsolicited proposal in 2018, with the developer agreement approved last year. The project was submitted under the Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act guidelines.

The city will use funding outline in its capital improvement plan — $15.8 million for a community pool, a splash park at $4.5 million and $9.15 million for a competitive venue — to cover construction. The site will feature an eight-lane and 50-meter competition pool, two moveable bulkheads, two one-meter and two three-meter springboards, spectator seating for 1500, on-deck athlete seating for 760 and an outdoor splash park.

Hampton hopes to draw the attention of larger swim tournaments and host national aquatic competitions with a venue that stands out among others in the region and Mid-Atlantic, city officials have said.

“The city is definitely upping the ante on sports tourism,” says Mary Fugere, the Hampton Convention & Visitor Bureau director. “There is great competition for sports tourism because it has proven lucrative even during the most challenging economic down-turns. Hampton recognizes its value to enhancing quality of life for residents and for increasing visitation.

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