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Feature Article - November 2008

Versatile Venues

Collaborate to Bring More to Your Community

By Jessica Royer Ocken


Having a place where more than one activity can happen is by no means a new concept. But multipurpose facilities are a concept that seems to become more and more relevant all the time. Whether it's an aging and changing population, a tightening budget or a desire to be more in tune to the needs of the community, many of the signals you're likely to receive as the planner or manager of recreation space will point you toward maximizing your assets and creating convenience for your users.

"But we've been doing this for years," you say. "Our gym/fitness center/swimming pool complex is going strong." If that's the case, you may be ahead of the curve, but there's room for even you to grow. More than just multiple activities, the most versatile of venues these days are created by multiple partners in an arrangement that takes collaboration—and community service—to a whole new level.

So whether you're considering a new facility, looking to add interest to current offerings or wanting to approach a partnership, Recreation Management can help. Consider the following suggestions and examples as you find the multifaceted solution that's right for you.

Considering a New Facility?

In the realm of multipurpose venues, the ideal might be to have an array of enticing options in one location and all under your control, but tread carefully down this path. Any facility large enough to house many activities effectively is, well, large—and likely expensive.

Ed Munster, chief operating officer for the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, which includes 26 branches and recently merged with Cobb County YMCA to add 10 more, knows a thing or two about this. "When we build, we have to know we'll be supported by a large membership," he explained. These consistently paying customers are what foots the facility's bill. "We have a disciplined way to determine whether the community is there. If they are, we'll wrap classes [and other programming] around the membership, but those are not the drivers or decision makers about whether to build a building."

This disciplined process Munster refers to begins with a marketing study to evaluate the community in the area where the building is being considered. The Y conducts surveys to see who would be interested in attending a YMCA and tests "price sensitivity" to determine what sort of fees they can reasonably charge. After that, it's simple math. "We take the price we can charge times the number of members and see how much revenue that will generate," Munster said.

That gives them a starting point, but that's not the end of the calculations. Munster estimates that running a large (50,000-square-foot-plus) facility well costs $1 million to $2 million a year "just to open the doors," he said. "That's before you start repairing and replacing." And if you've gone to the expense of constructing this magnificent recreational palace, you'll want it to last, so figuring in operational costs is key to budgeting. "The biggest mistake people make is thinking that having the capital for the building solves their problem," Munster said. "Operating costs are far more expensive."