Feature Article - July 2014
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Heads Above Water

How Aquatic Operators Are Staying Financially Afloat

By Kelli Ra Anderson

When the Olympic torch was extinguished after the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ga., not everything associated with the world-caliber event came to an end. Many training and athletic facilities like the Chatham County Aquatics Center (CCAC) in Savannah, Ga., continued to be popular and provide services to their local communities.

"We are a county facility built in '96 when the Olympics came to Georgia, and we are part of that Olympic legacy that was left behind," explained Misty Selph, facilities manager at the Center, which sports a 50-meter lap pool with a focus on competitive swim. "In recent years we have seen several local pools close around us; we are the only county-owned pool, and because of economic hardships, we've seen a substantial decrease in our budget that presents a challenge as a manager to continue without reducing services."

Yet, despite the hardships, belt-tightening and less than 100 percent cost recovery, the facility is meeting cost-cutting, revenue-increasing goals while contributing to the economic well-being of local businesses. In effect, the facility is a success story.

Similarly, White Water Canyon Water Park of the Tinley Park Park District in Tinley Park, Ill., also is experiencing success, but by different measure. Having ridden the recession's roiling waves since 2009, the facility's financial books have remained in the black. It attributes its success to savvy pricing, effective incentives, smart cost-saving measures and lots of programming.

"We have had the Cub Scouts come and earn badges here, we have a junior lifeguarding programming, we have morning lazy river running and open up our Friday mornings to area day camps," said Karol Komar, director of the facility. "It's anything you can think of—there isn't one thing that makes it or breaks it."

In recent years, as the national economy slowly recovers, many aquatic facilities have struggled to keep their heads above financial water. According to Mick Nelson, facilities development director of USA Swimming and consultant to the aquatic industry, more than 2,000 community pools have closed since 2009.

Yet, it is encouraging to note that many are learning the secret to staying viable, successful and financially afloat, even in such challenging times. By identifying key values and expectations, facilities are able to effectively target where they can reduce costs, increase revenue through creative programming and market their programs in a way that is engaging their community without reducing services. How?