Supplement Feature - February 2014
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Fresher Waters

Boost Attendance With Aquatic Play Features

By Wynn St. Clair

"You're limited only by your own creativity and flexibility," Landress said. "There are so many options out there right now, it's never been easier to find ways to boost attendance and make your facility a lot more fun."

Officials in Chillicothe, Mo., embraced this philosophy last summer when they renovated Chilli Bay Water Park, one of the town's most well-loved recreation sites. Originally constructed in 1963, the facility received a facelift in 1994 that included a zero-depth entry area, a mushroom waterfall and two waterslides. The original renovations proved successful with thousands of visitors coming through the doors each year.

Despite the park's popularity, the city wasn't content with the status quo and launched an initiative to refurbish the facility through an existing capital improvements sales tax. The project included, among other things, two large slides, a family slide and children's play area in the northwest pool, underwater seating, a log roll, climbing wall, basketball hoop and high and low dives in the southwest pool.

The renovations made a big splash in their inaugural year with the total number of visitors exceeding 36,000 people. The average daily attendance was 419 people. Because Chilli Bay's opening was 10 days late, officials estimated that the total number of visitors would have been more than 40,000 had it opened on time.

"I feel like we had a very successful year," said Josh Norris, Chillicothe's director of Parks and Recreation. "We were anticipating large crowds, but we did not expect them to be that big."

Despite its delayed opening, the waterpark exceeded revenue projections by $13,000. The renovations also addressed water loss issues in the pool basin, which allowed the facility to end the season $60,000 under budget. All totaled, the waterpark turned a small profit this summer, something many publicly owned facilities in the Midwest struggle to do.

Norris believes the city's decision to carry a tropical theme throughout the park played a large part in Chilli Bay's successful renovation. The little touches such as palm trees and surf boards gave the facility a fun, high-end feel, he said.

"People have been blown away by what we've been able to accomplish," Norris said. "It doesn't feel like a city pool when you enter. We wanted it to feel more like a private resort or a small private waterpark. And that's the impression people came away with."

But the project did more than just beat expected revenues, produce stunning attendance numbers and cause jaws to drop. It also earned the Missouri Municipal League Innovation Award, a statewide award that is given to groundbreaking and creative projects.

"The City Council wanted the new facility to increase local usage and attract out-of-town visitors," the municipal league said in announcing the award. "Secondly, they wanted a unique facility that would be an asset to the city and add to the quality of life in Chillicothe. With more than 30 palm trees, surfboards and thatched roofs, Chilli Bay achieved those objectives."

There are no plans for Chilli Bay to stagnate. The city is looking into adding chairs, shade structures and parking in the near future. Within the next five years, Norris said there is a possibility of an additional slide being placed in the park as well.

"We want to continually add to the facility," Norris said after winning the innovation award. "We want to add small things here and there that will better the facility."

Recreation managers, however, need not embark on a pool renovation in order to provide patrons with a fun aquatic experience. An increasing number of communities are turning to spraygrounds, which have become a lifesaver for parks departments looking to provide aquatic diversions. In addition to being environmentally friendly and accessible, the spray pads can be updated easily.