Capital Region Aquatic Center moving to ViaPort in Rotterdam, previously planned for Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady

ViaPort in Rotterdam

ViaPort in Rotterdam

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ROTTERDAM — The Capital Region Aquatic Center, a long-talked about project planned for Mohawk Harbor, is expected to instead break ground on an 80,000-square-foot facility at the ViaPort shopping mall sometime early next year.

Developers behind the project announced Monday that they have signed a letter of intent to lease the mall space after years of development and fundraising efforts that include millions in public funding from the federal, state and county governments. The move marks a significant step for a project that has struggled to raise funding and was delayed by the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic three years ago.  

Details on a final lease agreement are still being worked out, but the facility is expected to open near the mall’s old food court, according to Kara Haraden, president of the Aquatic Center’s board of directors. 

“It was November or December that the idea was first run by us,” she said. “The more it was talked about, the more sense it started to make.”

Haraden said the project was relocated due to a lack of space at Mohawk Harbor, which already includes Rivers Casino & Resort, two hotels, apartments and a number of other retailers and commercial businesses. Union College is also developing plans to construct a 2,850-seat arena in the area for its hockey teams. 

ViaPort, meanwhile, has seen its share of development in recent years, including state offices, an aquarium and more recently a bingo hall, but the mall is still home to ample vacant storefronts. The mall’s owners could not be reached for comment. 

The Aquatic Center will feature three pools, including an Olympic sized 50-meter lap pool and platform diving well, and will include public use for swim lessons and aquatic therapy that will be available for memberships and one-day passes. An additional floor for a 1,200-person spectator area would also be constructed, which is what the Mohawk Harbor plans called for, Haraden said.

“The footprint really hasn’t changed,” she said. 

Haraden added that she believes the Aquatic Center has great “synergy” with the mall’s entertainment attractions. The ViaPort location also comes with the added benefit of ample parking and necessary infrastructure like water and sewer. Moving to the mall would also help save on construction costs, she said. 

The project is now expected to cost between $36 million and $40 million, up from the original $35-million estimate, according to Haraden, who noted that the center is two-thirds funded. The Aquatic Center is planning its final fundraising push as it goes through the environmental review process and prepares site plans that still need to be approved by the Rotterdam Planning Commission.  

In recent years, the Aquatic Center has garnered millions in public support, including $5 million in federal funding secured by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York. The Schenectady County Legislature has also committed $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds towards the project, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, secured an additional $2.5 million in state funding.

The city of Schenectady committed $2.5 million from its own ARPA funding last year, but Mayor Gary McCarthy on Monday said a contract with the Aquatic Center was never signed and that the City Council will revisit how to spend the funds at a later date. 

“I am thrilled to witness the establishment of the Capital Region Aquatic Center right here in my hometown of Rotterdam,” Santabarbara said in a statement. “This world-class facility is poised to become a vital community asset and a catalyst for economic growth in our region.”

The facility is modeled after the Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, which brought in $180 million in revenue and accounted for 176,000 hotel night bookings over a 10-year period, according to Haraden. 

Local officials are hopeful that the Aquatic Center will provide a similar impact for the county by bringing in hundreds of visitors for up to four days at a time for competitive aquatic events throughout the year. 

Haraden said that the Aquatic Center has already secured letters of support from a number of aquatic governing bodies, including USA Swimming, USA Water Polo and USA Diving, and officials have been in communication with collegiate divisions to host championship competitions.

There have also been discussions with SUNY Schenectady and the Schenectady City School District to provide swimming lessons for students, she said. 

“We have visited many, many facilities and have really reached out to anyone and everyone,” Haraden said. “We certainly don’t want to build something like this and not have it prosper.”

Richard Ruzzo, a District 1 county legislator who has championed the project for years, said ViaPort is a “perfect” location for the Aquatic Center due to its proximity to the I-890 corridor, which connects to the Thruway and has close proximity to downtown Schenectady, which is home to restaurants and several hotels.

He said the center’s economic impact will be great, but noted that he believes the community impact will be even greater. Revenue from the center could help pay for new community programming, and the center’s ability to provide swim lessons and other aquatic activities to the community will provide residents with valuable skills they can use for life. 

“If we can do some kind public benefit where every second grader in the region, certainly in the city of Schenectady, at-risk youth who don’t get access to pools, to aquatic centers like this, we just taught a life skill to generations to come,” Ruzzo said. “That’s the win to me.” 

Ruzzo said he plans to talk with his fellow lawmakers about the possibility of providing additional funding for the project

Rotterdam Supervisor Mollie Collins said the announcement is exciting for the region and could help attract new development at ViaPort, which would prove beneficial for the town moving forward.

“I think it’s wonderful that it’s coming to Rotterdam,” she said. “I think it’s great that it’s coming to ViaPort. I feel the mall can thrive and this should bring in a lot of people.”

Last year, town lawmakers canceled a 10-year lease agreement by which the town would have moved its facilities into the old Kmart facility at the mall, following months of public backlash. The town has since decided to keep its existing Town Hall, but plans for the police department and court facility are still unclear. 

Asked if the Town Board will be having any discussions about providing funds for the Aquatic Center, Collins said it’s possible that lawmakers have a discussion, but said more details are needed before any funds are committed. 

“It hasn’t been discussed at this point, but now that there is more of a definite interest that could possibly be a discussion board members can have,” she said.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-410-5117.


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