National City Aquatic Center nears completion, seeks operator

NATIONAL CITY — The long-awaited National City Aquatic Center at Pepper Park is almost completed and is looking to secure an operator. National City’s City Council authorized an action on Feb. 16 to negotiate terms with Southwestern College in Chula Vista to be the “onsite provider of aquatic programming.”

If negotiations are successful Southwestern College would offer environmental, recreational and safety programs on and by the water. The Aquatic Center is adjacent to Pier 32 Marina.

“Southwestern College has expressed an interest in contracting with the city to be the operator of the Aquatic Center,” Audrey Denham of National City’s Community Development Department told council members. 

National City would fully subsidize the first year of the center’s $200,000 operation; the subsidy would decrease $50,000 each year until 2021, when Southwestern College would be responsible for operating the entire Aquatic Center.

“The $200,000 subsidy does not account for revenue collected for programs offered at the [Aquatic Center]; such revenues would reduce the public subsidy,” city staff stated.

The city would also spend an additional $110,000 to provide watercraft, lifejackets, safety equipment, promotional materials, office furniture, and storage systems.

Kayaking, rowing and sailing would be among the activities enjoyed at the Aquatic Center. The center also includes boat storage, locker rooms, restrooms and showers.

Denham said National City and Southwestern College would work together to find alternate funding sources to help lessen the city’s obligations.

Southwestern College has experience operating aquatic-themed programming, according to city staff. The institution of higher learning operates Crown Cove Aquatic Center and promotes safe boating education and instruction.

One of these funding sources is a $60,000 grant the city applied for to pay for community open houses. The Aquatic Center would also be available to rent by the community for private parties, weddings and other events.

Negotiations would begin after Southwestern College is given direction by its governing board how to proceed. City staff stated the direction would be provided at some point in March. If the college’s governing board agrees to pursue the opportunity Southwestern and National City would bring an operating agreement to the City Council for approval during the spring. The Port of San Diego’s Board of Port Commissioners would vote on the agreement, if all goes as planned, in June.

The 4,700-square-foot Aquatic Center has been in the works since 2004. Pier 32 Marina originally sought to be the center’s operator but, according to city staff, backed out of negotiations with National City “due to the financial uncertainty of operating the [Aquatic Center], based on the challenges of receiving public funds through a for-profit enterprise to subsidize the operation.”

Southwestern College possesses non-profit status.

Council members hoped the Aquatic Center, which has been under construction since October 2013, would be open with an operator in place in time for the summer boating season. At least $4.5 million has already been committed to the project.

The Aquatic Center was previously known as the Waterfront Adventure Center.

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