News

Diving trials slip through city's fingers

By COLE COSGROVE

Associate editor

The Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center, host of the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials for diving and a national aquatic sports powerhouse, bellyflopped on its chance to host the 2004 U.S. Olympic diving trials after administrators failed to submit a bid by last month’s deadline.

The trials could have infused the local economy with an estimated $2 million in hotel reservations, meals, shopping and entertainment for the hundreds of divers, family members, coaches, staff and media representation anticipated to attend.

“Federal Way expressed interest in bidding on the event,” said Jim Quinlivan, director of marketing for U.S. Swimming and Diving. “They were sent a bid packet, but for whatever reason, they didn’t submit a final bid.”

Aquatics Center director Mike Dunwiddie said the Center was unable to get anyone to commit to funding even the minimum $75,000 to include Federal Way in the running to host the event.

Quinlivan didn’t disclose the amount of this year’s winning bid, submitted by the city of St. Peters, Mo.

“We were very disappointed. We just can’t waste these kinds of opportunities,” Dunwiddie said. “Personally, I hate losing anything.”

Different circumstances

The Aquatic Center benefitted in the wake of unique circumstances — including backers with relatively deep pockets and eyes on future glory — when it landed the successful bid for the 2000 U.S. Olympic diving trials in 1998.

“We had big players. The decision could be made in one day and off the paperwork goes,” Dunwiddie said. “I think we’re beyond those days.”

Those days enjoyed the patronage of a group called the Seattle Bid Committee 2012 — a branch of Bob Walsh Enterprises, which was also a major source of funding for the 1990 Goodwill Games, the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four championships and the NBA All-Star Weekend — that was pushing for Seattle to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The Sports and Events Council of Seattle/King County, responsible for making special arrangements to host events at the Aquatic Center, including the Olympic trials for synchronized swimming in 1999, also supported the effort to snag the trials.

King County Executive Ron Sims, co-chairman of a committee charged with bringing the 2012 Olympics to Seattle, wrote a letter to U.S. Diving requesting the 1998 trials come to the Aquatic Center.

His letter was backed by a $150,000 bid organized and funded by the Seattle Bid Committee 2012 and the Sports and Events Council of Seattle/King County.

Walsh said the Seattle Bid Committee 2012 and the Sports and Events Council never expected to recover their bidding expenses. They figured hosting the 2000 trials would provide a competitive edge for the region when it came time to bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The coordinated effort and the money to support it paid off and, in 2000, Federal Way played gracious host to 50 divers competing for Olympic berths at the Aquatic Center.

Finding funding for the trials wasn’t such an easy endeavor this year.

Potential

When Dunwiddie e-mailed Walsh in November about the 2004 diving trials, Walsh replied that his group was working on two other bids in addition to their regular business.

“... Although I am enthusiastic about your efforts, it is a busy time for us,” he wrote. “But if you could let me know how we might help, I would certainly like to try to help on some level. Thanks again for touching base. Hope to hear from you soon.”

Walsh said he expected to hear back from Dunwiddie.

“He asked if we could help,” Walsh said in a phone interview. “I wrote back and asked him to send me more information but he never responded. I was frankly surprised he never called back. All he had to do is tell us what he needed.”

Dunwiddie said he interpreted Walsh’s e-mail as a polite refusal.

“It appeared they wouldn’t be able to help at the level we needed to build a coalition,” he said.

Potential funding from the Sports and Events Council all but dried up last October, when the council changed its name to the Seattle Sports Commission and changed its affiliation from the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce to the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It also changed its overall mission.

“We really want to change the focus of the commission from event organizing to more of being a marketer for Seattle’s great venues,” director Suzanne Lavender said in an interview with the Puget Sound Business Journal last October.

On Dec. 9, Dunwiddie asked Lavender about the new structure of the Commission. She confirmed the commission wouldn’t be able to provide any funding.

The Seattle Sports Commission currently is working with Bob Walsh Enterprises on the bid for the 2006 Special Olympics. That bid will be made Feb. 17.

With the two major funding sources from the bid for the 2000 trials unable to make substantial contributions, Dunwiddie attempted to cobble together a coalition of local funding sources to make a competitive, minimum bid.

Search for a coalition

Still, some have wondered if Dunwiddie could have found backers if inquiries and requests had begun sooner. The Aquatic Center received the bid packet Oct. 28.

By early November, King County Parks management began discussing the county’s role in bidding — specifically, whether the county had the authority to use taxpayer money for non-public purposes in which the county wouldn’t have a voice in who participates.

“We had to work through the legality of our ability to pay a rights fee,” county parks director Bob Burns said.

“It was our determination that, one, the rights fee was fairly expensive and we didn’t have the money as a King County government to put up,” he said. “Second, legally, it was an area that was probably suspect.

“However, we could pursue a partnership or coalition where someone else could pay the rights fee and host the event,” he said. “The second half of November we started pursuing some of those options.”

On Nov. 25, Dunwiddie sent a diving trials information packet to County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer to see if von Reichbauer, whose district includes Federal Way, could help with contacts and potential funding sources.

Dunwiddie also sought funding from the Tacoma Pierce Sports and Events Council. He is one of nine members of its advisory board.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Commission, which is funded by agencies in Pierce County, including the cities of Fife and Puyallup, has given $4,000 since 1999 to events at the Aquatic Center, including the 2001 U.S. Master’s Swimming National Long Course Championships, the 2001 FINA Junior World Synchronized Swimming Championship and the 1999 NAIA Swimming and Diving national championships and the 1999 JR. West ZONE synchronized swimming championships.

But this year, the commission wasn’t willing to provide funding for the diving trials.

“It was a large amount of money they were going to need to pull that off,” executive director Brad Moeller said. “When there’s a base (of money) already to work with, it’s more enticing. I didn’t feel like (there was a base).”

On Dec. 3, Dunwiddie briefed the Federal Way City Council on his progress while he was interviewing for an open spot on the city’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, a five-member body appointed by the City Council to use revenue from the 1 percent lodging tax to help fund events to bring visitors to the city, but he didn’t go into detail.

The Federal Way City Council appointed Dunwiddie to the committee on Dec. 17.

The Aquatic Center never applied for grant funding from the committee, either, which had $48,000 budgeted for Tourism Enhancement Grants last year, but only awarded $34,000.

“With the diving trials, it’s almost a slam dunk they would get a grant, but they didn’t request it for some reason,” said Patrick Doherty, Federal Way’s deputy director of community development for economic development. “They certainly could have applied for funds and likely would have been awarded some amount of money. Every little drop counts. ”

The deadline for the most recent grant period was in September of 2002, about a month before U.S. Diving released the detailed bid information,

Dunwiddie said he knew that a competitive bid would be out of the committee’s league. The goal was to build a coalition of funding sources to bid $100,000.

“We knew the funding source would be beyond the means of the lodging tax advisory committee,” he said.

On Dec. 20, Dunwiddie told his colleagues on the committee they weren’t able to get a funding commitment from the Seattle and Tacoma sports councils and they couldn’t find a host.

Deputy Mayor Dean McColgan, who is chairman of the committee, said the committee didn’t get the information until it was too late.

“We never got enough time to pursue (it),” he said. “We talked about trying to organize it at too late a date.”

Other committee members agreed.

“My impression was it was kind of an 11th hour request for a lot of money,” said David DeGroot, a curator at Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection and a three-year committee member.

“In the future, when those things come up, we should be looking at it further in advance and do a little bit more planning,” he said. “Certainly our hearts are in the right places. It’s a matter of timing.”

Economic impact

Unfortunately, the region lost more than prestige when the Aquatic Center lost the chance to bid.

When Federal Way hosted the six-day U.S. Olympic Diving Trials in 2000, Alison Corrigan, then-president of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, estimated the city reaped $2 million.

“Diving, specifically, has a high financial impact,” Dunwiddie said, adding that lodging facilities used for the 2000 trials spanned from SeaTac to Tacoma.

NBC broadcast four hours of diving coverage to a national audience and plans to do the same at the 2004 trials.

In 1998, the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites in Federal Way hosted all the divers and most of the national media crews. Holiday Inn Director of Sales Christine Cochran said the diving trials brought in more than $150,000.

“We were sold out for nine days,” she said then. “Who couldn’t be happy about that?”

Planning for the future

Despite this year’s disappointment, Dunwiddie and city staff are preparing for the 2007 diving trials bid.

McColgan said the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee already has set aside $20,000 in lodging tax revenue as seed money to encourage others to join in the bidding for the 2007 trials.

“When Mike (Dunwiddie) goes and looks for contributors, he can say Federal Way already put $20,000 into the bid so they know we’re serious,” he said. “If we have more money to put into that fund, we’ll continue to do that every year. We think it will cost about $150,000 to win the bid in 2007. We want to start getting momentum as early as now. If Federal Way as a city can come up with at least a third, I think we have gone a long way toward getting that.”

Dunwiddie also stressed the importance of working with outside agencies to get an early start.

“We have to be able to build coalitions and we’re taking some good steps,” he said. “We’re thinking smarter this time, planning further ahead. We still don’t see the city as the only player in this. They’re going to have to watch out for Seattle and Federal Way. We’ll be ready next time.”

Associate editor Cole Cosgrove: 925-5565 and sports@fedwaymirror.com

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