Supplement Feature - February 2010
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Raging Waters

Economy's Tumult Drives Aquatic Facility Plans

By Daniel P. Smith

Marketing Adopts Added Importance

As the opening of the revamped Cypress Cove Aquatic Center approached in May 2009, the Village of Woodridge snagged a page from the private-sector playbook. Turning to a thorough marketing campaign complete with direct mail, radio and television spots, and pre-opening tours, the village and its lone aquatic center alerted the community that this was not business as usual.

Thrilled with their village's efforts as well as the remodeled facility's wide appeal and fresh look, residents and nonresidents alike flooded the complex. Despite an unseasonably cool summer, Cypress Cove's 2009 attendance jumped 24 percent from 2008, a sign that the facility's renovations were not only justified, but hitting the mark with the patrons it pledged to serve.

Such aggressive marketing of a public facility, a method once widely thought unnecessary, has become a growing requirement. As the economy has softened and the public pleads for efficiency, sound management, transparency and financial responsibility, marketing provides an avenue for public spaces to package their new expenditure in a positive light.

"A greater number of our clients want to get the public engaged; marketing the experience and the venue is one critical step in a process that is more important now than ever before," LaLonde said.

Going to social venues such as Facebook, establishing a brand identification that resonates with users and fostering communication with patrons will only gain added credence in future years. By repositioning the facility to attract more users, public facilities are bringing private-sector marketing practices into the public sector and reaping the benefits of the renewed attention to detail. It's another trend unlikely to wane.

"It's no longer build it and they will come," Whiteaker said. "Facilities are going to have to provide a unique guest experience for every user and implement attractions and programming to appease a broad population."

What the Future Holds

Most financial forecasts suggest a positive, upward trend as 2010 unfolds, a vibe that will most certainly infuse aquatic centers with the much-needed capital and confidence to activate plans.

"Communities across the country need these projects; it's just a question of financing," Yarger said. "Right now, we're looking for ways to help our clients present projects to their boards and help them see the ways we can work with vision and purpose."

The solution, many industry insiders contend, rests in finding the balance between attractive aquatic features and well-controlled operational costs, a mix that will unquestionably help facilities justify the expense to patrons and promote a more prosperous future.

"We know the economic times we're in, and we also know we're in a service industry that works to please people," West Chicago's Major said. "Our role is becoming even more essential these days and I think we're all looking for ways to take this challenge and turn it into a real positive."