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Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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County considers ads on floor of its world-class pool

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Swimmers at one of the country's finest competition pools could soon be staring through their goggles at giant corporate logos.

King County is touting advertising opportunities at its flagship Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way. Corporations are invited to place up to four logos along the bottom of the pool, each up to 192 square feet. The cost: $125,000 a year for a pair, or $200,000 a year for all four.

The county also is offering 284 billboards, most of which would be 8 feet long and 4 feet high, in Marymoor Park ballfields in Redmond for about $1,000 each per year, as well as advertising at other ballfields as it struggles to balance the budget.

In brochures and a Web-site link set up this month, the county promotes a green image to businesses. It says parks and pools are visited by many "upwardly mobile families" and that advertising would allow businesses to associate their products with "strong families, healthy communities and a high quality of life."

But the plans are not sitting well with Dave Kienlen, the coach of double Olympic gold medalist Megan Quann. Quann, of Puyallup, swims at the Federal Way pool twice each weekday.

"I don't think they honestly asked anyone in the swimming community what effect this would have on the athletes," Kienlen said. "It could be very detrimental to the athletes if (the signs) are positioned in the wrong places."

Swimmers need to use lane lines for guidance and information, Kienlen said. Any interference with those lines, especially at each end of the pool, could distract swimmers and harm performance times. A logo in the middle of the pool, on the other hand, could unfairly help some athletes determine their position, he said.

As far as she is aware, no competition pools in the country use submerged advertising, said Mary Wagner, a spokeswoman for the sport's governing body, USA Swimming, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Though myriad rules govern the dimensions of competition pools, nothing she knows would prevent such ads, she said.

"I don't think there is anything in the rulebook about things on the bottom of the pool," Wagner said. "It's the first time I have heard the question."

Selling advertising would enable the county to keep the center open, said Tom Koney, the county's manager of enterprise activities at parks and pools. The county no longer can rely solely on fees, he said.

"If this is a necessary evil, so be it," Koney said. "I think swimmers will be happy to have a pool to swim in. We are not doing this for frills."

Koney said the county has yet to receive any expressions of interest in the pool opportunity since highlighting it this month.

The county is negotiating with a half-dozen companies, including PepsiCo, over Marymoor billboards, Koney said. One billboard is under construction, and he expects many more deals will come to fruition next year.

Other advertising opportunities promoted by the county include naming rights for Marymoor's new concert venue and, for $2,500, the chance for a company to sponsor a film screening at any of the county's other indoor pools, in White Center, Renton and Kent.

The county has reduced its budget for parks and pools by more than $9 million this year as it cuts back on what it considers non-core services. The aquatic center costs $1.33 million annually to operate but is expected to bring in just $700,000 in revenue this year, for a net loss of $630,000. About 500,000 swimmers and spectators use or visit the pool annually.

The center was built for the 1990 Goodwill Games and seats 2,500. It is regularly used by international teams for training, said Mike Dunwiddie, the center's coordinator. More than 100 world records have been set at the pool, which is considered "fast" thanks to design innovations such as a deep, graduated bottom and anti-wave features, he said.

Rather than painting logos directly onto the pool, the county would likely paint them on clear plastic sheets that could be bolted to the bottom for easier removal, Dunwiddie said.

Swimmers at the pool yesterday seemed largely unconcerned at the possibility of eyeballing advertising.

"Swimming is boring. There is nothing really to look at," said Scott Stluka of Puyallup who trains for triathlons. "It wouldn't make any difference to me. It would add some color."

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

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