Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.
I am assuming that the majority of PRB readers are in the same, large budget boat, which is in a storm, with an erratic rudder, taking on water and drifting dangerously close to the barrier reefs along the shoreline.
So, as the ship lists and drifts, parks and recreation professionals can begin to feel like they’re among the first to walk the plank as the captain decides how to lighten the load.
Navigating Rough Waters
I can’t say what’s happening in every park department in the country, but in my neck of the woods, my department has sailed for two years or more into ever-constricting budget waters and is about to drift once more into unknown lands. This phenomenon has pushed us deeper and deeper into “Pay-to-Play” territory.
In our case, we’ve been in those waters for some time now. As a city with only a 50-year history (chartered in 1959) and a growth spike in the late 1970s and 1980s, we have been transitioning from an “emerging” city to an “established” city for several years.
When that happened, previously available funding sources–impact fees from new building, permitting fees and inspection fees–gradually decreased. We saw this coming several years ago and began telling people that services and activities that were free or at a low cost during the emerging years would need to be fee-based eventually in order to maintain the same level of service and come closer to break-even operations.
Battening Down The Hatches
That prediction mostly fell on deaf ears. Now, the economy has propelled us at warp speed into the Pay-to-Play world. (Yes, I’ve transitioned from a sailing ship to the starship Enterprise in one sentence.)
This brings me to the subject of this missive, which is the development of innovative new ideas for revenue-producing programs and activities. I’m hoping to receive real reader input on this because I know there many innovators in this field.
As we have been more and more driven to produce revenue to help offset expenses, we’ve turned to renting available space during low-use times as a major initiative. We have recreational facilities that are not widely used during certain portions of the day because of the times when most working people with school-age children can use them, generally from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays after work and school, open to close on Saturdays and some on Sunday afternoon.
So we isolated those open times, started brainstorming, and began actively seeking potential customers. For example, we have a year-round field house and aquatic center with two pools and two full-sized courts, plus three meeting and activity rooms.
Tossing Out Lifeboats
An opportunity presented itself in the form of an offer from a major airline to rent the facility between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to train its personnel in “ditch” training, that is, what to do if an aircraft goes down in water. We negotiated an arrangement, and the airline will begin training this spring, and with nearly 3,000 personnel, the program will continue indefinitely.
Another idea was to use the two full courts at this facility for something other than basketball and volleyball. We developed a “Buy Design Jewelry Show” that features jewelry made mostly by local and regional artists who pay a fee to obtain a space at the show. It was obviously a need because we filled 60 vendor spots in short order, and had to start a waiting list.
Another idea we’re about to initiate is offering meeting space in two conference rooms at the Recreation Administration building. The conference rooms are used by staff for weekly or as-needed meetings, and are also used by our youth and adult sports organizations at no cost for their meetings and sometimes registration. But for much of each weekday the rooms are vacant. We’re targeting home-based or small businesses that don’t have in-house meeting space and need an informal business environment between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays to meet with clients. We’re almost ready to roll this out, so we’ll see how it goes.
A wildly successful event we’ve promoted for the past 10 years is a father-daughter dance. We normally hold it in February to coincide with Valentine’s Day. It’s a dance with a DJ, finger food and pictures, and this year we had a Cinderella carriage pulled by a white horse to give the girls a once-in-a-lifetime ride. For the first time this year, we filled to capacity and had a waiting list. The list became so long that we decided a second date would be a good move. We saved many dads from certain and harsh criticism by scheduling that second date.
Each of these ideas produced revenue that helps offset the expense of operating a full-service recreation department in the Pay-to-Play world. But I know there are other ideas we aren’t thinking about. That’s where you, the readers, come in. How about sharing some of those ideas? We’re not in competition with each other; rather, we’re all on the same recreation crew. So, I would love to receive some e-mails or phone calls with ideas to share with the rest of our shipmates.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org