Turning Cool Spots Into Hot Cash

Whether its families, grandparents, picnickers, little league fans or fisherman, the one thing everybody appreciates on a sunny, hot day is shade. So much so, they’re willing to pay for it. At least, that’s the lesson park and recreation departments all across the country are learning.

This demand, coupled with the health benefits (and public awareness campaigns) of keeping cool, has led the shade industry to develop a variety of colorful, cost-effective shade options that go beyond simply providing shade and instead make a statement.

Aesthetically, shade structures with their many dramatic colors, shapes and fabrics can create spectacular attractions. And, by simply changing the colors, logos, or styles of existing shade structures (or adding new ones), a pool, playground, ball field, park or other outdoor facility can be made to seem new again. And, people use them.

As Steve Pastusak, Assistant General Manager of Bayshore Development, the company that manages Splash Mountain Water in Ocean City, Maryland, says, “the advantages of umbrellas (or other shade structures) are two-fold – looks, the color and the height, and functionality. People don’t want to bake in the sun while eating or lounging, especially caregivers or grandma and grandpa. They’d rather be in the shade.”

Making Shade Pay

The simple realization that shade can play an important design role and that people want a cool space to relax has created a somewhat unexpected revenue option for cash strapped departments.

While aquatics attractions, like Pastusak’s Splash Mountain Water attraction, have found they can rent out shaded areas to large groups for use as a gathering/picnic area, parks and recreation departments are starting to take the concept a bit further.

In addition to renting out shade structures as a gathering place for birthday parties or group events, some departments have found these non-traditional outdoor spaces are also great places to host fee-based programming (story time, crafts classes, etc.) allowing them to offer more classes and more programming then their traditional indoor facilities would ordinarily have accommodated.

In some cases, they’re creating corporate partnerships and essentially having a third party program the area at no cost to the department. For example, one department worked with its local bookstore and library to create a free lending library housed under a shaded area adjacent to one of its buildings. Patrons were able to sit in the shade and read, borrow a book or leave a book.

Popularity and Rates

The City of Lewisville, Texas has started renting multi-colored “Party Brellas” (manufactured by Sun Ports, Int’l) for all types of parties. They charge a nominal fee of $25 per hour and a half to rent the covered areas at both their Sun Valley and College Station facilities.

“Once people figured out they could rent the space, it became extremely popular,” says Hilary Pike, Aquatics Supervisor for the city. “By the end of the summer, we were selling out every day. And this year we had patrons inquiring about reservations in January – even though we weren’t accepting reservations until May.”

James Hughes, Director of Parks, Recreation and Special Events in Bedford, Texas agreed shaded spots have become increasingly popular. The City of Bedford recently opened a new water park and leisure pool at its Bedford Boy’s Ranch, an existing community park. Incorporated into the overall design of the new facility was a shade strategy that added to the fun, colorful look. Shade structures were placed around the splash pad, the tot pool, and one of the cabanas and throughout the park itself.

As Hughes says, “When your days get up to more than 100 degrees, shade is very important. Everyone gathers under the shaded areas.”

Like other departments, Hughes rents out these new shaded areas for large private gatherings and parties. The cabana, which uses a unique, attractive cable suspension shade structure, rents for $90 for two hours and includes ten pool/water park passes for the day. The other rental area is a wooden pavilion/structure. It rents for $65 for two hours and also includes ten passes for the day.

Corporate Sponsorships

Long the bastion of major sporting events and venues, corporate sponsorship money has begun trickling down to the local level. Colorful, eye-catching shade structures can be the perfect place to display corporate sponsorship logos without ruining the overall feel or design of the facility.

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