Operations >> Aquatics
As communities provide outlets for one
of America’s most popular pastimes, they often do so with limited funds,
maintenance queries for aging facilities, and changes in demand, regulations, and
weather. According to Paul Gilbert, executive director of the Northern Virginia
Regional Park Authority, innovation is key for sustainability in today’s
aquatic environments. “In the last 20 years, every new housing development…has
built a pool. There’s a saturation,” says Gilbert. “Now you have to sell
something more interesting…create a fantastic experience.”
Gilbert credits this strategic mindset with
the recent success of three of Northern Virginia’s aquatic facilities, which,
since renovations in the late 2000s, have recovered costs and generated
revenues on an increasing basis. By taking advantage of the Blue Ocean Strategy
(developed by Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne), his agency created new market
space targeting a specific set of decision makers—children ages 4 to 10.
For example, at Pirates Cove Waterpark
in Lorton, Virginia, features such as water cannons and dumping buckets are
presented with a thoroughly integrated pirates theme. Children can enjoy murals,
play on a ship, and dig for “treasure”—medallions they can trade for trinkets
at a treasure chest. Gilbert says the iconic images and fixtures, some visible from
the road, create a sense of adventure that can’t be replicated. “The experience
starts long before you get inside,” he states.
Indiana’s Lake County Parks took a
similar approach in the late 1980s when, in lieu of a traditional facility,
they began development of Deep River Waterpark. “We knew we needed to do things
that would generate positive revenue,” states Jim Basala, superintendent of
business development, adding that the water park now contributes 25 percent of
its gross revenue to other county park and recreation amenities. Basala says carnival
food and logo souvenirs help to imprint unique, vacation-like memories in
visitors’ minds. He states, “There can be only one Deep River experience.”
Gilbert says agencies don’t need to go
beyond their enterprise expertise to create revenue streams. By taking
advantage of market adjacencies—changing one aspect of an operation, either a
product or service, or customers—agencies can limit financial risk.
In 2011, Gaithersburg, Maryland, made
renovations to its Water Park at Bohrer Park to engage more people of all ages.
“We tried to give everyone something,” says Michele Potter, director of parks,
recreation, and culture. The agency converted the main pool into a 25-meter,
six-lane amenity to accommodate the high local demand for competitive swimming,
and it transformed the traditional baby pool into a play/spray ground with a Maryland
theme. Additionally, Gaithersburg made enhancements to attract more teens.
Potter adds, “We set up volleyball nets and basketball hoops, and added a slide
where you can race your friends.”
Agencies are citing success with private
rentals. Deep River Waterpark hosts between 40 and 50 groups per year; the
facility is rentable most weekdays after closing time when the temperature
makes general visitation unlikely. Brad Anderson, facility/program supervisor
for Englewood, Colorado, Parks & Recreation, says birthday party packages with
private space, food, and paper products are popular at the city’s indoor
aquatic facility and water park. “It’s a one-stop shop,” says Anderson. “The
parents don’t have to worry about the hassle and mess. They can enjoy
Personal space and shade are powerful
draws, according to Anderson. He notes that four cabanas constructed last year in
Englewood’s waterpark completely recovered costs that same year. Operations manager
Martesha Brown of Rockford Park District, Illinois, says basic cabanas offered
at Magic Waters Waterpark in 2008 were so successful that Magic Waters has
since expanded to luxury cabanas, bungalows, and island patios.
To generate buzz and increase
admissions, agencies are taking advantage of social media. Gaithersburg,
Maryland, recently utilized CertifiKid—which Potter describes as a type of
LivingSocial site for children—to increase weekday attendance. Brown says Rockford
Park District generated $30,000 in 10 hours for Magic Waters, pre-season, through
a “Terrific $10” sale, with multiple benefits. “When they come to the park,
they aren’t spending as much on admission, so they spend it in the park,” says
It goes without saying that fitness and
safety are important components for agencies seeking the balance between
leisure and social responsibility.
Johnson County Park and Recreation
District, Kansas, provides a program with U.S. Masters Swimming that, according
to superintendent of recreation Jill Geller, has been profitable for many years.
A punch-card system allows access to up to 15 classes for a set fee during
mornings and weekday evenings to accommodate adult schedules. All associated
staffing expenses are charged to the program.
For Walnut Creek, California’s Arts,
Recreation and Community Services department, swim safety is not only a
driver for participation, it is at the core of the agency’s mission. Assistant
director Kevin Safine acknowledges the success of their lifeguard training
programs and swim lessons—which recover the highest percentage of costs—but is
quick to point out that affordability and accessibility are priorities to
ensure they are serving everyone.
Safine is curious about the ways in
which Walnut Creek will innovate in the future to be less reliant on the city’s
general fund while continuing to accommodate community needs and demand.
“How do we do that?” he asks. “There is
an answer out there; it’s just getting there, which is our challenge.”
Amy Kapp is a freelance writer in Northern Virginia.