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From Polo shirts to pools. How an old Macy's store turned aquatic center pumps millions into Henrico

Posted at 5:08 PM, Jun 12, 2024

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- For several years, the old Macy's sales floor at Regency Square Mall in Henrico County, Virginia, has churned out Olympic trial competitors. Home of the NOVA of Virginia Aquatics facility since 2021, Henrico County is banking on the success of NOVA and the sports tourism dollars the facility is expected to draw with a multi-million dollar expansion.

Phase two construction of the aquatics center will begin soon with a $2.5 million investment from the county over five years and $1 million investment from NOVA. The expanded capacity of the facility will mean mezzanine seating above the pool with seating for up to 1,000 people.

NOVA of Virginia Aquatics

The new layout will mean the NOVA facility could host state, regional, and national swim meets since parents and fans are not allowed to sit poolside during those competitions. The investment marks the latest transformation of the old Regency Square Mall space.

"The economic impact of NOVA’s facility is estimated at around $2.8 million per year [right now]. By adding the mezzanine seating and attracting state, regional, and national meets, its impact is projected to explode to more than $20 million per year," said Jody Rogish, who represents Tuckahoe District on the Henrico Board of Supervisors.

"It means NOVA will go from bringing 30,000 event attendees a year to our county to over 60,000 event attendees annually," said Leigh Peterson, CEO NOVA of Virginia Aquatics. "It means that Henrico County will become a national swimming destination, and it means $20 million worth of sports tourism dollars will be generated for the county right here at Regency."

Rogish told the crowd of county leaders and NOVA swimmers/parents at Wednesday's announcement the draw of sports tourism to Regency Square will lead to further investment in area, like what's happening at Virginia Center Commons following the opening of the Henrico Sports and Events Center.

Peterson said the upgraded facility will continue their mission to teach swimming skills to as many young people as possible and help young swimmers compete at a high level.

"To be taught to swim can save a life, it can build confidence, it can inspire dreams," Peterson said.

Crash Ackerly spends hours in the NOVA pool working toward his dreams. The 19-year-old swimmer leaves later this week for Indianapolis, Indiana, where he will compete at the U.S. Olympic trials for a chance to swim at the Olympic games, one of two NOVA swimmers to do so this year.

"Lot of early mornings, lot of 4 a.m. wake-ups," Ackerly said. "It’s really just perseverance and commitment to your goals even when those goals might not seem attainable.”

Swimmer Crash Ackerly
Swimmer Crash Ackerly

The 19-year-old said the expansion will serve as a figurative starting block for other young swimmers.

“When I was little, I used to the Collegiate pool and watch some of the real big meets," Ackerly said. "Watching the big swimmers come down there and swim really fast was really inspiring for me. Having NOVA become a large venue to host these larger meets where the pros can come down and swim really fast, I think that can be really inspiring for a younger generation.”

Construction begins soon on the expansion, and the facility will remain open during that process thanks to temporary walls set up around the second floor of the building where the mezzanine seating will be installed. NOVA expects the upgrades will be ready for fans by fall 2025.

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