SBJ/February 2 - 8, 2004/Facilities

Pool player: Conseco Fieldhouse prepares for swimming championships

Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, recognized as the nation's first retro-themed arena, is breaking the mold again in playing host to the 2004 FINA World Swimming Championships. The 4-year-old home of the NBA Pacers will be converted into a natatorium for the event Oct. 7-11, six weeks after the Summer Olympics in Athens.

Transforming a major league indoor sports venue into a swimming facility "has never been done in the U.S.," said Mike Dilts, the project's manager and a volunteer with Indiana Sports Corp., the nonprofit group that won the event bid before Conseco Fieldhouse opened in November 1999.

The cost of the entire production, including 161¼2 hours of ESPN coverage, is valued at about $4 million, he said.

Past international swimming events have outgrown the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Natatorium in town, according to Dilts. Conseco Fieldhouse will accommodate 10,500, as opposed to 4,700 at IUPUI.

The city of Long Beach, Calif., is doing something similar in an outdoor parking lot for the U.S. Olympic Trials, building 50-meter pools to meet the demand for an increased number of spectators, he said. "We're doing the same thing for the World Championships, building permanent pools in a temporary setting."

Dilts is also president of Shiel Sexton Co., a local commercial construction firm that will help build the two 25-meter pools, an eight-lane structure for competition and a six-lane warm-up unit. The pools are required to be two meters deep, which equates to elevation that is "roughly 71¼2 feet tall, or Yao Ming size," Dilts said.

Optimal viewing will be on the club level and upper bowl because installation of the pool decks will block the view of about half the seats in the lower bowl. Event-level space will be reserved for athletes and the media. "The best seats are up higher anyway," he said.

Construction starts Sept. 22, and the pools are to be filled with water a week later. From Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, the water will be filtered and heated as timing equipment, lane lines, starting blocks and flags are installed and decking completed. On Oct. 4, the pools will be turned over to FINA.

"We've been planning for 21¼2 years on the schedule and methodology," Dilts said. "There will be 500,000 gallons of water between both pools that require the proper temperature and clarity."

The setup will also be taken down on a strict timeline.

"We have three days to get it done," he said. "The Pacers have a game scheduled and that game must go on. We will be reselling the pools in the community."

STADIUM COMMITTEE CONSIDERS MINNESOTA OPTIONS: Tom Proebstle, design director with Crawford Architects of Kansas City, said that if the Minnesota Vikings finally build a new NFL stadium, it could include an interactive outdoor theme similar to the REI or Bass Pro Shops retail store experiences. Proebstle and his business partner, David Murphy, both formerly with Ellerbe Becket, have been working with Vikings executive vice president Mike Kelly and stadium consultant Lester Bagley on stadium designs since 1997.

A screening committee appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty is researching the feasibility of several proposals for the Vikings, the Minnesota Twins and the University of Minnesota. One of two viable sites for the Vikes includes a $1.2 billion project in Anoka County that would encompass a regional shopping center and business park, according to Proebstle. The stadium would be part of the complex. The financing model would be based in part on revenue produced by the retail, entertainment and business components surrounding the facility.

Proebstle said the "Minnesota style" theming elements could include a rock climbing wall and fishing at the stadium. The water attraction could also feature a Viking ship floating into the venue and could be used for ice skating in the winter months.

"They finally have a pro-stadium governor," he said. "Jesse Ventura [the former governor] wasn't even interested in talking about it."

Contact Don Muret at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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Ellerbe Becket, ESPN, Indiana Pacers

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