Share The Revenue

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.

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