Proposed aquatic center could reduce drowning deaths

LSE Architects A rendering of the planned pool

North Minneapolis community members met last Tuesday, June 28 to discuss the future of a year-round swimming and youth development center. Parents, children, and familiar faces of the city gathered for a special information session about the development of the V3 Center. 

The new initiative is devoted to providing an accessible place for youth, and the entire community, to learn to swim, end a long-held generational fear of water, and reduce racial drowning disparities.

V3 Sports is the nonprofit organization behind the idea that was founded by Erika Binger, an athlete who worked as the first female athletic director at the Jack Cornelius Boys & Girls Club in Minneapolis. Binger said that the name V3 comes from the term “victor in 3,” which is a mantra that she has carried from her time running in and coaching young athletes for triathlons. 

In 2019, V3 secured and purchased an Olympic-sized, 50-meter pool that was used for the 2021 U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. The 50-meter pool “is stored in the warehouse and will be installed during the second phase,” said Binger. Along with that pool, the organization also purchased a 25-yard training pool for the center. 

The center will also feature multi-purpose courts, a running/biking track, a fitness and community gathering space, business storefronts, drop-in child care, and educational rooms. V3 organizers expect the center will bring positive attention to the area, attracting many spectators, visitors and families annually. 

 It will offer employment opportunities, generating a projected $5.2 million annual impact for the local economy and 60 year-round full-time and part-time jobs, according to V3 Sports. 

Fees to use the center will be based on a sliding scale. When asked about funding for the V3, Binger said that V3 was listed in the State’s bonding bill that is currently stalled in Congress. Right now, V3 is “actively fundraising from foundations, donors, corporations,” said Binger.

A rendering of the planned pool

“This is 120,000 square feet that will be built by the community and run by the community,” said Doris Baylor, a strong supporter of V3. “This is a huge opportunity for our city.”

Phyllis Goff, a recent volunteer with V3, said that her experience with the stereotype that “Black people can’t swim” drove her to strive for change alongside the organization. “I didn’t learn how to swim when I was younger,” Goff said. “What I thought was normal was not normal. Children of color have a disparate number of drownings in America.” 

According to the YMCA, 64% of Black children can’t swim, and the fatal drowning rate of Black/African American children is three times higher than White children. 

“I hate to tell you that it’s not just a stereotype… Some of it is true,” said Baylor. She said that she didn’t learn how to swim until she was in college, as it was a requirement for graduation at the HBCU she attended. 

Baylor said that it’s just as important for adults to learn how to swim for the sake of their children. “I remember some of those horror stories of adults on the shore trying to save their children in the water and they can’t.” 

She added, “If people are going to be jumping in, they need to know what they are doing.”

In September 2017, V3 Sports purchased its future site, currently a warehouse at 701 Plymouth Avenue North in Minneapolis. A year later, staff members began to work within the space, among them Malik Rucker, V3’s director of community engagement, and Raven Tittle, the organization’s administrative manager.

“I grew up in the suburbs,” Tittle said. “I was lucky enough to be in a position where my family could swim. Understanding just how many people couldn’t was crazy to me. It’s a very generational issue. If your grandparents don’t know, then your parents don’t know, and now you probably don’t know.”

Rucker asserted that North Minneapolis would gain much from this facility and that athletic values in children shape them in a positive way.

“There’s a lack of infrastructure for our community to be healthy,” Rucker said. “From growing up here, I’m just really excited to have health and wellness opportunities and for our community to be healthy.

“It’s taught me a lot of life lessons that I still carry today. Whether it’s how to fight through adversity, trust the process, and strategize… there are just so many lessons.”

The organization is excited about its next steps and how it can affect North Minneapolis for the better. The center plans to open its doors “likely December 2023/January 2024,” said Binger.  “We have a great team in place. More people now have the vision but are also contributing and making it better and stronger.”

The V3 Center is currently in its fundraising stage and is continually looking for partnerships in the community. For more information about V3, visit their website at v3sports.org.

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