The International Swimming Hall of Fame may be moving from South Florida to California.
The lease for its Fort Lauderdale museum, open since 1965, expires in 2015. Hall of Fame officials say the city's planned redesign for the aging Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex and its swimming pools would move the museum to an unappealing building and would fail to attract more visitors.
Officials are considering a move to Santa Clara, Calif., which has been offering interest from a large local swimming community and pledges to raise $10 million for its relocation, along with a $2 million endowment.
"It has been a disappointment to see that the city of Fort Lauderdale does not think we have value,'' hall of fame president and CEO Bruce Wigo told The Miami Herald. "We love Fort Lauderdale and would like to stay, but I have a fiduciary duty to put it where it can thrive and fulfill its mission, and that requires a business model that works."
Fort Lauderdale is spending $32 million to build two Olympic-size swimming pools and relocate the diving pool atop a four-story parking garage.
Wigo said the plans haven't kept up with the community's needs. He wants to see the complex add a water park to attract more visitors. The complex loses about $1.2 million a year.
"When this was built in 1965 it was the only 50-meter facility around, but now there are 18 in Broward (County)," Wigo said. "The pool is hardly used and closes at 2 p.m. on weekends. Plus the population has shifted west. You have to give people a reason to drive here. Yet they are going to stick with a 50-year-old concept."
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said a water park wouldn't fit on the narrow peninsula where the complex is located.
"I would like to see a world-class facility paired with an internationally acclaimed Hall of Fame, which it was decades ago," Seiler said. "The facility will get used. The question is, what can they do together to draw more attendance?"
The complex once drew swimmers and divers who came south to train and compete. Last week, the complex hosted the 2013 FINA USA Diving Grand Prix.
It was on the brink of closing in 2005 when Wigo was hired and the budget has roughly doubled since then to $600,000.
Its exhibits include Mark Spitz's starting blocks, Jenny Thompson's medals, uniforms, antique swimwear, posters, videos, photos and a library of archival material.
Seiler said the city and the hall of fame have exchanged contract proposals.
"We are still exploring our options, but it isn't going well with Fort Lauderdale and hasn't for years," Wigo said. "Is it time to move on and make it new again? We want to find a place where it can work."