By Kirk Johannesen, The Republic

    Columbus could become a preferred location for water skiers if it builds three water ski lakes near downtown, according to the governing body for U.S. water skiing.

    The water ski lakes are part of a downtown redevelopment plan, which also calls for the construction of indoor and outdoor sports complexes.

    "Columbus would become a water skier's destination if it were to move forward with this project," said Scott Atkinson, director of communications for USA Water Ski.

    The Irwin-Sweeney-Miller Foundation owns the farmland where the lakes would be created, west of downtown past the bridge and
railroad tracks, and north of Indiana 46.

     ISMF has granted permission for 600,000 cubic yards of dirt to be removed from the property to build four baseball fields that are part of the outdoor sports complex. 

    The ski lakes project probably won't start until fall at the earliest, said Ed Curtin, executive director for Columbus Redevelopment Commission.

    The intent is for the lakes to be used for all types of water sports, such as slalom, tricks, jumps, wakeboarding and swimming.

Strong support

    The site for the water ski lakes originally was considered for the outdoor sports complex. Because land is in a floodway, erecting fences for ball fields would have created obstructions, which is not permitted.

    When an alternate site for the outdoor complex was located, project officials knew that removing dirt from the farmland would create lakes. Inquiries were made to see if support existed for creating water ski lakes.

    The ski lakes project has garnered local, regional and national interest, Curtin said. 

    Competitive ski teams from Indiana, Purdue and Ball State universities, which do not have water ski facilities of their own, have contacted the city. Purdue and IU have indicated a high level of interest in having their competitions in Columbus once the water ski lakes are complete, Curtin said. 

     Iron Girl, an organization whose mission is to empower women to healthier lifestyles, supports the plan because it could hold triathlons in Columbus, he said. 

    USA Water Ski's former executive director sent the city a letter supporting the three ski lakes, Curtin said. 

    About a dozen three-lake water ski sites exist in the United States, but few are in locations similar to what's planned for Columbus - near restaurants, hotels, parking garages and the interstate, Atkinson said. With a few exceptions, most three-lake water ski sites are located in private developments. 

    Three-lake water ski sites have the potential to host many tournaments or events, including national and world championships, Atkinson said.

    The U.S. Water Ski National Championships is typically almost a weeklong tournament with nearly 1,000 participants annually, Atkinson said. The Collegiate Nationals draws more than 20 teams from around the country each year.

    "Having a three-lake water ski site near downtown in itself would make Columbus one of the best water ski areas in the country," Atkinson said. 

    "When you factor in that the site would be in a prime location near restaurants, hotels, parking garages and an interstate, it would be a win-win for Columbus as well as the water skiers. It would bring a lot of attention to Columbus as a water ski destination." 

    USA Water Ski would assist and work with local organizing committees and tournament hosts any way possible, Atkinson added. 

    Cummins Foundation also is lending support, agreeing to loan Columbus Redevelopment Commission money to move the dirt from the ski lakes site to the outdoor complex site. The amount is undetermined now, Curtin said.

Moving ahead 

    The next step in the project is to get a master plan completed, Curtin said. Design development drawings must be prepared, and the necessary documentation for getting permits for construction in the floodway also must be obtained.

    Dave Hayward of Christopher Burke developed a preliminary master plan, and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc., the landscape architecture company which designed Mill Race Park, has submitted a proposal for developing a master plan for the water ski lakes and the outdoor sports complex.

    A sports committee will meet with the Van Valkenburgh team to provide input. 

    Curtin said it's too early to know who would own the lakes, but ultimately he would like them to be accessible to the public.

    He's excited about what the ski lakes could mean for sports tourism and the city's reputation.
    "I think we have a good reputation of amateur sports we do already, but when you start adding a ski lake complex to the slate, that really puts us on the map with national and international competition," Curtin said.

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