“Those numbers are high and they’re escalating very fast”
Water slides and fountains, a climbing wall, indoor track and aerobics equipment are key features the town of Mt. Crested Butte is considering for its proposed aquatic recreation center, but whether or not a million-dollar lap pool is included in the final design is yet to be decided.
A financial feasibility study for the aquatic center was presented to the Mt. Crested Butte Downtown Development Authority (DDA) on Monday, December 1.
According to consultant Jeff King, the town’s proposed recreation center will cost between $14.8 million and $16.4 million depending on if a lap pool is included in the final design. The lap pool, which King calculated at three lanes, would cost an additional $150,000 a year to operate.
“Those numbers are high and they’re escalating very fast, unfortunately,” King said.
This summer the DDA hired Ballard King and Associates to conduct a feasibility study for the proposed recreation center, which will be located in the middle of Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s proposed Mountaineer Square North development at the base area. Ballard King specializes in project consulting for recreation projects, including youth facilities, ice rinks and aquatic recreation centers.
In addition to projects in Avon and Breckenridge, Ballard King helped the city of Gunnison design their community facility, which was completed in 2005.
The DDA is a special taxing entity responsible for designing and financing the construction of the recreation center. In late 2007 the DDA hired an architect working on the plans for Mountaineer Square North to sketch a building footprint for an idea of what could fit in the town’s 44,000-square-foot development rights on the recreation center parcel.
What goes in an aquatic center?
In February 2008, the DDA’s preliminary design included a play pool, a lap pool, space for cardiovascular fitness equipment and free weights, an aerobics room, a climbing wall, meeting and activity rooms, a child care room, spa rooms, an adult hot tub, locker rooms and a lobby. That building, minus additional square footage needed for mechanical equipment, was a little over 33,000 square feet.
With the exception of the spa room and a lap pool, King calculated that the DDA’s chosen amenities would require a 38,000-square-foot building. Over 15 percent of that square footage would be devoted to hallways, mechanical equipment, support areas and walls. “Walls and hallways take up space, and that’s square footage you have to account for,” King said.
King said amenities like the aerobics room and rock-climbing wall were important to have. He said many recreation centers across the country wished they had built more space for aerobics areas.
He also stressed the importance of keeping a short-term child-care facility, meeting rooms and an indoor playground. “For the indoor play room we’re talking about something you would see at McDonalds, except on steroids,” King said. A special, easily cleanable room for birthday parties was also suggested. “Moms have been known to travel great distances to have a memorable birthday party for their child,” King said.
The addition of a lap pool would push the building to 42,000 square feet.
King said the lap pool included as an option in the study was not calculated as a regulation-size, six-lane lap pool. Even for the smaller three-lane design, King said, lap pools were an expensive addition that would not necessarily draw many users. The lap pool would cost an additional $1 million to build, and an additional $150,000 a year to operate, but would only generate an additional $15,000 in revenues.
The recreation center’s amenities could take up more or less space depending on the final design, King said. “Obviously this needs to be validated by an architect, and we’re not architects. This was an attempt to put a program together—to say what it’s going to cost not only to build (the recreation center), but also to operate it, and what kind of revenues might be generated,” King said.
King calculated the base facility without the lap pool would have yearly operational and staffing costs of $1.2 million, and could generate $774,000 in revenues from fees, swimming lessons and other programming features.
To come up with the revenue figures, King used a day fee of $15 for adults, and $12.50 for youth. He suggested an annual pass cost of $600 for adults, and $480 for youth. King said the price of daily admission wouldn’t discourage tourists. “Now, would it be restrictive for people who live in the area? It probably would be. But the hope with the concept is to drive local folks to purchase the annual pass,” King said.
King said the pricing could end up being different, and could go so far as using a tiered system for locals versus tourists. “We’re not saying this is the only way it can be done,” King said.
DDA member Sara Morgan asked how other communities were covering the operational losses at their recreation centers.
King said most communities used revenues from sales and use tax to cover the additional cost.
Mt. Crested Butte councilman Mike Kube asked if King’s revenue and expense figures were adjusted for inflation, and King said they were not.
DDA member Michael Kraatz asked if any recreation centers have been successfully built in phases. King said it wasn’t done very often, but a few communities were successful in building a pool facility first and then adding other amenities.
Who will visit the aquatic center?
Another large component of the feasibility study was identifying the demographic market and potential users of the facility. About 90 percent of the facility’s revenue would rely on tourism.
King based the potential for local users on a service area that stretches from Almont to Mt. Crested Butte. He estimated that the service area would have a population of 3,500 by the year 2013, which is around the time the DDA plans to begin construction of the recreation center. King estimated there would be approximately 636 families with children living in the service area in five years.
DDA board member Al Smith asked if Gunnison was included in the study area.
King said the population of Gunnison was not included in the study, but there was certainly a possibility that people from Gunnison would come to use the facility.
By overlaying statistics on recreational activity from the National Sporting Goods Association with the local service area, King calculated that 680 people in the valley might be interested in swimming, 420 would enjoy jogging, 220 would play basketball, and 437 would enjoy using aerobics equipment. “We’re not suggesting if you build a facility that has an aerobics area you’re going to get 437 customers. There are lots of other places people can exercise those activities. You can lift weights or run on a treadmill at home. This just gives you a little sense for that the market potential is for various activities,” King said.
King said the population of 24-to 44-year-olds in the service area was 20 percent higher than the national average, yet the population of youth between the ages of five and 17 was lower than average. “That tells me you have a lot of young adults in your community that have not started to raise families,” King said.
King said tourist visitors were vitally important to keeping the recreation center running. “The service area is not large enough to support the center. You must rely on tourism,” King said.
King said if 350,000 of CBMR’s skier visits were from tourists, about 2.5 percent of those would also visit the recreation center. He said there would obviously be more touristy activity at the facility during the winter than in the summer, and hardly any visitors at all in the shoulder seasons. “The busiest days at the center are when the weather’s not that great up on the mountain,” King said.
King said it would also be important to heavily advertise the aquatic recreation center to tourists. “Not only marketing for the facility, but the community marketing itself as a tourist destination and using the facility to supplement that.”
Mt. Crested Butte councilman Gary Keiser asked if the facility would have an impact on tourist visits.
King said he did not quantify the impact the recreation center would have on tourism, but it could certainly help draw more visitors to the area. He said people wouldn’t come just for the facility itself, but would see it as part of an overall vacation experience.
DDA member Chip Christian said he was skeptical about the number of tourist visitors King expected. “One thing that scares me is the first point, that it must rely on tourism… It scares me that we probably wouldn’t attract as many tourists as you think we would.”
King said basing the use of the recreation center on a small percentage of CBMR’s skier visits was conservative to begin with. But between a steady stream of tourist visitors and local users, King said the economic market was favorable for a recreation center in Mt. Crested Butte.
King asked for the DDA to review the feasibility study and make any comments by mid-December, at which time he will compile a final report.
The planning process for Mountaineer Square North should resume in the first quarter of 2009, according to CBMR planning director John Sale. In the meantime, Sale says the town and CBMR are still negotiating a land swap that is necessary to move the town’s aquatic center parcel into the middle of Mountaineer Square as currently proposed.