King County Aquatic Center strengthens Federal Way’s economy and profile

The center has landed several regional, state, national and international events. Its ability to offer cutting-edge equipment and technology has helped it become known nationally. And its notoriety helps Federal Way prosper.

Swimmers start a preliminary heat during the March 2008 NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

Since opening 20 years ago, the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center has documented many firsts.

The center has landed several regional, state, national and international events. Its ability to offer cutting-edge equipment and technology has helped it become known nationally. And its notoriety helps Federal Way prosper.

Making a name

Annually, the facility hosts three or four high-profile events and many smaller happenings. Olympic Trials, NCAA championships, PAC-10 conferences, U.S. National events and Speedo Junior Nationals are just a few competitions the aquatic center has secured. The center made history when it was the third facility to attempt, and the first to successfully pull off, back-to-back large-scale competitions: the 2009 U.S. Swimming Open and 2009 U.S. Swimming Speedo Junior Nationals, this past August.

It was recently announced that the 2012 U.S. Olympic Diving Trials will be held at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center. The 2,500-seat facility was home to the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials in 2000 as well.

“Nothing’s taken for granted when people come here,” facility manager Mike Dunwiddie said. “It’s not another swimming event. People feel welcome.”

Landing events

Securing notable events is not easy. Dunwiddie annually attends a national convention where he places bids for events one to two years away.

“We very aggressively go after national events,” he said.

Getting the event requires coordination and risk-taking. In the case of Olympic Trials, a rights fee must be paid to bid the event. This can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, Dunwiddie said. An event coordinator is also needed. This person or organization is responsible for paying the rights fee, Dunwiddie said. The organization must then hope it recoups its money through ticket sales, he said.

The Seattle Sports Commission has tended to act as the event coordinator for Olympic Trials, Dunwiddie said. Paying the rights fee generally requires help from a municipality. The City of Federal Way contributes hotel lodging tax funds toward the rights fee. This money can only be used to encourage tourism in the city.

The money will eventually make its way back to Federal Way come June 18-24, 2012, when the trials take place. The diving trials are expected to bring $3.5 million to Federal Way, mostly through lodging rentals. They will get national television coverage, which increases the nation’s awareness of Federal Way, Dunwiddie said. That same year could bring the NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships. Dunwiddie expects to hear soon whether the facility landed that event.

Despite the still recovering economy and the county’s budget problems, the aquatic center is financially stable, Dunwiddie said. It is not having problems attracting events or placing bids, he said.

“We’re so well situated for the future,” Dunwiddie said.


The aquatic center celebrated its grand opening April 18, 1990. The facility was constructed to host the Goodwill Games. Weyerhaeuser donated the land. The Seattle Goodwill Games Committee donated $5 million. An $8.8 million King County bond helped make the facility a reality. The Games went well and the aquatic center hasn’t looked back since. Upwards of 200 world records have been broken in the aquatic center’s competition pool.

“In a lot of ways, we’re better than when we opened up,” facility manager Mike Dunwiddie said.

The center’s design keeps it competitive. The facility accommodates swimming, synchronized swimming, diving and water polo. It is one of only a few of its kind in the nation.

The facility’s equipment also gives it a leg-up on the competition. The Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center was the first in the country to feature horns under each starting block, Dunwiddie said. The equipment ensures all swimmers hear the start signal at the same time during competition. The water flow in the competition pool is also unique. It enters from the pool floor, causing less interference with swimmers’ speed. A massive state-of-the-art scoreboard, displaying competitors’ times while they’re racing, hangs prominently at the end of the pool. Recently, the overhead lighting system was modified so it can be turned on and off quickly, allowing the use of specialized lighting, like spotlights. This type of attraction is old news for sports like basketball, but it’s up-and-coming to aquatic sports, Dunwiddie said.

“It, overall, creates a new level of excitement,” he said.

Check it out

The Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center is open to the public for open swim, pool exercise, family swim, lessons and lap swim. A membership is not required. General admission ranges from $3.25 to $5, not including exercise classes, pool passes or rentals. For more information and a schedule, visit

More in News

Serving country, serving community

Federal Way veterans, active military talk sacrifices, community service

Federal Way veteran turns 100 on centennial of WWI ending

Man recalls life, Air Force pilot experience

Federal Way Farmers Market co-founder creates community gathering place

Rose Ehl is Mirror’s Citizen of the Month for October.

Former Federal Way basketball player facing voyeurism charges

Detectives filed the case with the King County Prosecutors Office on Friday.

Federal Way police nab armed robbery suspect

A trio of suspects robbed Safeway and fled on foot.

Crime, unsupportive city drives thrift shop out of Federal Way

The Hoarder’s Attic Thrift Shop is moving to Tacoma after lack of police, city response, owners said.

HUD concerned Federal Way has not met requirements for PAEC loan

Housing and Urban Development says city has not met job growth goals since the PAEC has opened.

The team that advocated for I-1631 at downtown Seattle’s Arctic Club on Nov. 6, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Washington rejects carbon fee

I-1631 campaign organizers say they will continue pushing for a cleaner future.

The race for Washington’s 9th Congressional District is between two Democrats, incumbent Adam Smith (left) and political newcomer Sarah Smith. File photo
Congressman Adam Smith leads re-election bid for WA’s 9th District

The district spans from Bellevue and south Seattle down through Renton, Tukwila, Kent, Federal Way and Tacoma

Most Read