Design Corner: Partnering for Win-Win Results

By Mike Williams


ark agency leaders who are planning a facility project might find it worthwhile to consider collaborating with other organizations in their community to achieve mutually beneficial facility goals, goals which may be challenging to attain or out of reach altogether without the financial weight that combined assets can bring.

Among partners to consider for a joint facility development effort are other similarly focused agencies or governmental entities with unfulfilled building needs, as well as private organizations with compatible objectives in seeking a new facility solution.

The range of facilities that make sense for considering collaborative opportunities, and which can work from a programming/usage standpoint, include community and recreation centers, as well as office, maintenance or even entertainment facilities.

Exercise to Entertainment

While other public entities can be a logical fit, park agencies may wish to examine the mix of organizations in their community to see whether there are private institutions or businesses, or not-for-profit organizations with compatible missions, that present potential opportunities for discussing a joint facility development effort.

A public-private partnership between a Midwest park district and a professional sports team, for example, was forged to expand a recreation center through a $14 million construction project that introduced to the venue two ice arenas and various associated amenities, including office and fitness facilities for both entities. The joint effort promised the sports team, a hockey league franchise, a new, modern practice facility, as well as a platform from which to promote youth hockey programs and offer skill development opportunities. For the public-sector participant, the Hoffman Estates (Ill.) Park District, the endeavor offered the opportunity to collaborate with a respected professional sports organization to achieve financial benefits and simultaneously enhance park agency programs through the affiliation.

Of course, athletic activities are only one aspect of programming that public park agencies typically provide. Educational and cultural opportunities are others. Another Midwest park district, through synergies arising out of community cooperation, took possession of a local theater, where it conducts park programs.

While not collaboration in the strictest sense, in the arrangement wherein the Champaign Park District in Central Illinois acquired a historic theater, debt associated with the facility was excused by the municipality in which it is located. Foundation and grant funding allowed for restoration of the landmark, which now provides a place for park district theatrical activities, such as dance class recitals, as well as for hosting professional performing arts acts for community entertainment.

Sustaining Community Assets

Dissatisfied with the aging and cramped administrative offices it occupied in its suburban Illinois community—which happens to be the seat of DuPage County—the Wheaton Park District found a solution to this facility need through a partnership with the county government.

By moving the park district's main offices to space in the county's historical museum, mutual facility goals are expected to be derived for both public entities. Calling the arrangement a "win-win" opportunity for both the county and the park district, U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam remarked at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, "Good leadership is about collaboration."

The collaborative arrangement not only is seen to provide better office space for the park agency administration, but is expected to yield financial benefits to the cash-strapped cultural institution, which has been receiving funding from the county and is to continue to do so for the next five years.

After receiving some space planning guidance, the park agency administration moved into its new office space in the museum and will cover maintenance and administrative costs at the facility, which had been deemed by county leadership to have been underutilized as a community asset. Museum staff will also be employees of the district under the agreement.

While the district will occupy space in the museum rent-free, the payment of costs it is to expend is expected to help maintain upkeep on the museum building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was named by the Illinois Chapter of the American Institute of Architects one of the state's "Top 150 Great Places."

Partners in Promoting Health

One seemingly natural alliance can be observed in partnerships that pair organizations that offer healthcare services with public entities charged with providing recreation and fitness opportunities to community members.

In two significant park and recreation center projects, public park and recreation clients linked up with area healthcare service providers to achieve facility solutions for both participants in the respective partnerships.

In the case of the Glenview Park Center, a Glenview (Ill.) Park District facility initiative that yielded a 168,000-square-foot recreation center that opened in 2000, a local healthcare company was tapped to participate in the project. A subsequent partnership was established between the hospital organization and the park agency, wherein the former rents from the latter 10,000 square feet of space for use as a wellness center.

Similarly, some 30 miles away at the Centre of Elgin in Elgin, Ill., space in the 185,000-square-foot community/recreation center opened by the city in 2003 was dedicated for use by a local hospital, which conducts therapeutic activities for patients looking to restore physical capabilities following an accident or illness. The 12,000-square-foot wellness center located in the community center further underscores a commitment to community health, while drawing revenue to help the city operate the multi-component complex.

Aside from dedicated space applications, shared use of amenities—such as warm-water therapy pools and fitness equipment—can afford economic benefits to both organizations in a facility partnership, an advantage that is especially desirable in an era in which both public entities and healthcare providers are conscious of cost concerns.

Two Visions Combine

When multiple organizations can combine visions for a project—and back up the concept derived from the alliance with unified financial and planning resources to realize a new sports or recreation facility—they can fulfill otherwise financially impractical or perhaps altogether unattainable objectives.

Initiatives to develop a facility that is owned and/or operated jointly can yield "win-win" results for the parties involved, securing economies that would have been difficult, if not out of the question, for each partner had they tried to "go it alone."


Mike Williams is founder and chief executive officer of Williams Architects Ltd., a leader in recreation architecture in the Midwest. He is a registered architect licensed in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Florida and Nebraska, and has extensive background in recreation facility planning, design and construction. For more information, visit

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