The new swimming complex would replace the standing 50-year-old aquatic complex, situated along the Intracoastal Waterway on Seabreeze Boulevard. By the late 2000s, the facility was deteriorating, and losing $1 million a year.
A 2007 plan known as the LARC plan suggested that the site be redesigned with an aquarium, retail, and dining facilities. In 2009, the city put out a request for proposals from builders. Only one, Recreational Design & Construction (RDC), responded, with a $72 million plan. Other companies did not apply because language in the RFP was confusing.
The city then spent two years negotiating with RDC, ultimately resulting in a plan in 2011 for a much less ambitious $32.4 million facility.
After critics complained to the Broward office of the inspector general (OIG) that the city was engaging in favoritism by working with just one developer, the city was investigated.
Ultimately the inspector general found that the city had not engaged in favoritism, but that it had violated state law in the way it awarded a design-build contract. The inspector general's report also found that the city agreed that $1.66 million of the monies being paid to RDC would not be subject to an audit. The OIG called the city's sloppy processes "troubling" but no one was punished.
This month the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF), which has operated at the current aquatics complex since the 1960s, announced it would be departing and relocating to California. Staff members at ISHOF stated they were disappointed with city leaders for not fighting for better design plans for the new facility.
Swimming coaches tied with ISHOF lamented that Fort Lauderdale was missing out on the opportunity to make the aquatic center a world-class facility by not teaming up with a builder with expertise in building swim facilities.
U.S. Olympic Diving Coaches Tim and Ron O'Brien, who set up the Facebook page "Keep ISHOF in Fort Lauderdale," wrote in October that RDC had no experience building swim facilities and that they felt the proposed diving platforms on a parking garage in the designs would be dangerous due to wind conditions. The O'Briens said they believed the entire project should be scrapped:
"Contrary to remarks made on record by members of the Commission, the MAIN reason ISHOF is leaving is because of the poor design and outdated concept of the new facility and the millions of dollars such a facility will lose annually. That was the impetus for [ISHOF] looking elsewhere for a new home.
As we have stated numerous times, the current design of the new facility eliminates 99% of the surrounding community from using it. Tourists have no reason to venture over.
We would like to see a recreational element to the project that brings in the locals and tourists as competition only swimming and diving facilities always lose money. We were a part of one that imploded financially and was closed. We have already provided TWO independent reviews of the RDC plan that dispute their flawed business and design plan."
In December, plans emerged for an alternate design that puts diving facilities in front of the main building so that competitions would be visible to passersby.