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Olympics loss will not deep-six Arlington’s plans for Long Bridge aquatics center

The Washington region’s loss of a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics hampered, but did not eliminate, the hope that someone other than Arlington County will pay for a new swimming pool complex at Long Bridge Park, officials said Friday.

Mark Schwartz, deputy county manager, said Arlington is “still committed” to building the Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Center “without any new taxpayer funds.” Voters, in a 2012 bond election, approved spending $42.5 million for the center. Developer Vornado/Charles E. Smith, contributed $15 million in exchange for higher density in some of its projects.

But the county put the aquatics center on hold last year after bids came in $3 million more than the $79.5 million that was expected. In June, county manager Barbara Donnellan said her administration would seek private funding, possibly including naming rights, to cover the additional costs of the complex. If the Olympics bid had come through, corporate sponsors were considered likely to cover that cost.

The aquatics center, with an Olympic-size competition pool, a teaching pool, a family leisure pool with slides and a “lazy river,” an indoor fitness area and outdoor space, was caught up in the County Board electoral campaign of John Vihstadt (I), who questioned whether Arlington was spending wisely on major capital projects.

Mary Hynes, chairman of the County Board, said the county may choose to finish parts of the park that don’t include the pool complex itself. The esplanade could be completed, and a fourth soccer field is planned to be built above the existing surface parking lot, she said.

“There’s no appetite on the board for going back to the voters to fill the funding gap but we will have a community conversation about how to proceed,” Hynes said.

County staff is still working on whether plans should be revised, or whether any deep-pocketed private entities would be interested in providing money for the natatorium. Schwartz said it’s unlikely any recommendations would be likely before mid-2015.