Pleasing And Practical

Today’s aquatic center has the potential to become an important part of a community, to improve the quality of life, and to provide recreation for “children of all ages and abilities.” Especially in today’s economy–when the family budget is already strained–the successful aquatic center is an inexpensive alternative to commercial recreation, and viewed as a pillar of the community, bringing focus to family values, neighborhood pride and wellness.

With families traveling fewer and shorter distances, the term “staycation” (a vacation taken at home) is commonplace, and there is a real demand for nearby recreation. A tremendous opportunity for municipalities exists to capitalize on the commercial market. Begin by educating the public on what you have to offer.

An aquatic center also can help bolster the economic conditions of an entire neighborhood. In Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County, the David F. Schulz Aquatic Center at Lincoln Park won the 2010 State Farm Insurance Building Blocks Award Large Project. The award recognizes outstanding development toward rebuilding neighborhoods, and is awarded by LISC Milwaukee, an organization that helps transform distressed urban neighborhoods into healthy communities. Previously, the park drew only from its immediate neighborhood. The new facility has a regional draw that brings outside residents into the pool, the neighborhood, as well as surrounding businesses. The residents have a new sense of pride that results in a sense of ownership and responsibility for the property.

The New Way Of Doing Business

As municipalities rethink their strategies and start operating more as businesses, they must also provide community recreation at an affordable price.

There are three ways to increase income:

•    Increase the number of new clients and customers.

•    Increase the value of each sale made to clients and customers.

•    Increase the number of times that clients and customers buy from you.

This may seem like a daunting task given the reality of cutbacks in budgets and staff. Controlling expenses and increasing revenue are the only solution, but many cities find themselves in a Catch-22 due to a lack of resources.

This didn’t stop Doug Johnson, Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry in Aberdeen, S.D., when the department was preparing to open its new facility in 2007. The department applied for the state’s Matching Dollar Challenge, and awarded a tourism grant to market the opening of the facility. With this grant, the department was able to promote the facility on television, in print and with printed cards at concierge desks in hotel lobbies. The aquatic center now draws guests from a 100-mile radius. The key to this, Doug says, is in the marketing. “We continue to have a strong marketing program, which helps to boost our attendance. We have a close relationship with our convention and visitors bureau. They market our community along with the aquatic center, and have also received grants for marketing.” Be sure to do your homework and search for available funds.

Johnson also recommends promoting rental shelters to businesses for company parties. He says that this has brought in many people who were not familiar with the facility. And once people see it, they may come back.

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