Feature Article - November 2008
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Versatile Venues

Collaborate to Bring More to Your Community

By Jessica Royer Ocken

But what if your situation is the opposite? You need to provide more interesting options for the community around you and increase the use of your existing space, rather than branching out. In this case, the model being practiced by the city of Modesto may be just the example you need.

To ensure that they're used to their full potential, facilities owned by the Modesto Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods are available for rent. But this doesn't just mean you can have your next birthday party there. "We have several levels of rental use," explained Niskanen. "We co-sponsor almost every nonprofit youth or senior organization in town that provides valuable services, so that relationship means they're a 501(c)3, they serve 50 or more Modesto residents, and they will be open to the public and available to those who want to participate." Organizations that meet these requirements can use parks department facilities for free, "and they have access to Leisure Bucks, which is a scholarship program for families who can't afford to pay," noted Niskanen. "This [arrangement] is our highest level of use outside what the department plans."

Modesto facilities are also made available to other government entities, such as the County Office of Education, which may want to use the space for community meetings or organizational events. Then, finally, they are available for private or corporate rental. "Companies can rent a pool for a fee, or it may be individuals who want to rent a facility," said Niskanen. "Our group picnic areas and lighted softball fields do get considerable private use, and this helps cover our operating costs," he continued. "It adds income to offset the cost of those facilities."

A final tip for maximizing the use of your assets: Know who you're trying to attract, and make sure your facility and programming is appealing to them. "The Y knows what business it wants to be in," explained Munster. "We want to attract families." This means their multipurpose venue needs to include both kid-friendly and adult-oriented spaces and activities, and they need to be planned to occur simultaneously. "Parents won't bring their kids, or the kids won't want to come, if it's not fun. Parents don't want to write a check if the kids are complaining… The whole family should be able to come at the same time," he said.

They won't necessarily all be doing the same thing while they're within your walls, but there should be a place for each of them to get involved—childcare for kids while parents work out or classes for kids scheduled to coincide with classes for adults. This is another way programming partnerships can help you increase your appeal. Need more things for kids to do? Perhaps another local organization can provide some classes, or maybe there's a day camp looking for a home. And this approach certainly doesn't exclude individuals. "We have great facilities, and [single adults] are welcome," Munster said. "But we know we need to have spaces for kids."