Supplement Feature - February 2011
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Water Rescue

Programming Aquatics to Be Self-Sustaining

By Rick Dandes

Right From the Start

It starts with planning. Whether you are intending to build or renovate an aquatic facility or simply trying to adjust to this tough economic climate by being self-sustaining, you need to begin by putting together a solid business plan that outlines both operational expenses and anticipated revenue streams.

"I often talk myself out of work," Mendioroz confessed, "because designing a facility may or may not make any sense, unless you've got some sort of a subsidy, or an angel investor—someone willing to put up the capital cost and additional money for an endowment, which pays for the operating of the facility."

Mendioroz's company recently built a $17 million aquatic center in Riverside County, Calif., where there are almost 4 million people within a 25-mile radius.

"Anything will work there," he said. "But if you go to a smaller county, with say 5,000 people within a 25-mile radius, it's night and day in terms of the demographics and revenue. There is only so much revenue you can generate in areas with those populations. It will not cover the operating cost of that facility.

"Demographics are important," he added. "If you have a lot of people in the zero-to-10-mile radius of your facility, you have much more flexibility and freedom than running a public pool in the middle of a county with a small population."

Mendioroz, with more than 30 years of experience and having designed about 2,500 pools, asks his clients to participate in financial surveys and to categorize their revenue streams. It's a way for him to calculate whether a facility will be operating in the red.

"Based on the responses that we receive back, it becomes very clear which facilities are doing better financially," he said. "What we found is that when you approach the 50/50 split between competition-based programs and recreation-based programs you have a much better chance of increasing cost recovery. If all you have is a rectilinear pool geared toward competitive swimming, the best you can expect is 50 to 60 percent cost recovery. If, however, you can recover 80 percent of your costs through generating revenue, you can pretty much be assured of having a profitable facility, because many municipalities are still, even in this recessionary economy, willing to kick in 20 percent of cost."