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Federal Way dives into national spotlight

Swimmers start a preliminary heat of the 200-yard individual medley March 27 at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center.  - Casey Olson/The Mirror
Swimmers start a preliminary heat of the 200-yard individual medley March 27 at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

For competitive college-level swimmers across the nation, the 2008 NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championship is a serious, possibly once-in-a-lifetime event.

Federal Way is taking a similar view.

The competition has brought the city visitors, national media coverage and a boost in sales tax revenue. It did not come free, though.

The event, which began Thursday and will continue through Sunday, is being held at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center. The venue is no stranger to high-profile competitions.

“The aquatics center is probably among the top four such venues in the country,” said Patrick Doherty, director of economic development.

The 1990 Seattle Goodwill Games called the venue home. Olympic pre-trials have taken place at the aquatic center, and this is not the first time the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships have been held there.

But the competition to attract this type of event is getting tougher, Doherty said. For competitions like the swimming and diving championships, local swim clubs and universities often compete to host. When the University of Washington and Seattle Sports Commission couldn’t cover this year’s cost to bring the championships to the Puget Sound region, Federal Way offered $10,000 to entice them into making Federal Way the competition’s host.

“Big events like this, you essentially sort of bid for them,” Doherty said.

The money is being used to market the event and came from the city’s Lodging Tax

fund, which is used to attract tourism, Doherty said. The aquatic center’s financial director, Mike Dunwiddie, introduced the need to begin saving money to bid for national swimming and diving events in Federal Way, Doherty said.

“About four years ago, we identified the need to put away savings, year by year, to save for these events,” he said.

The move paid off, and while it is uncertain exactly how many visitors are in town to watch the swimming and diving competition, generally at least three spectators come out to support each participant, Doherty said. Several of these people will stay through tonight at a local hotel, he said. Even more have spent their money on food, gas and necessities while visiting Federal Way, Doherty said. The average visitor staying overnight in Federal Way will conservatively spend $75, Doherty said. Each person coming for a day trip will spend about $40, he said.

“They are here spending money and just being part of our economy,” Doherty said.

Beyond the immediate financial benefit of bringing the competition to Federal Way, the event, and in turn the city, will receive national media coverage on ESPN. The coverage will put the city on people’s radar, Doherty said.

“We are getting our city in the national spotlight,” Doherty said.

This may help bring future high-profile swimming and diving activities to Federal Way. The city may choose to bid for the 2012 Olympic pre-trials, Doherty said. This has not been discussed at length as of yet, he said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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