Aspen Recreation Center running at deficit so far
Aspen Times Staff Writer
July was a gangbusters month at the Aspen Recreation Center, but overall use of the facility since it opened last spring has lagged behind projections.
Based on attendance thus far, the ARC will finish the year running at about a $40,000 deficit, though city recreation director Tim Anderson said his staff is brainstorming on ways to trim that shortfall.
“We’re still going to see if we can’t make that money up,” he said.
The ARC opened last April to rave reviews and, for that month, generated the $150,000 it needs in monthly revenues to meet its projections. Valley residents purchasing passes for use throughout the year boosted April’s numbers.
Anderson estimated the facility would need to draw between 500 and 550 users a day, on average, to meet its operating budget, which has a $300,000 annual city subsidy already built into it.
The ARC averaged 200 users per day in April, 272 in May and 383 in June. Almost 100 people per day using the ARC in June were out-of-town visitors who pay higher rates and are a key component of the facility’s projected revenue stream.
“July was an unbelievable month,” Anderson said. “I’ve got some days when we got 300 tourists. We started having the hotels bringing their vans over.”
The facility saw an average of 532 users per day in July; through the first three weeks of August, it averaged 479 people per day.
“The numbers we had in July – I needed those kinds of numbers each month,” Anderson said.
When the ARC opened last April, offering two swimming pools, an ice rink, a climbing wall and new youth center to visitors and local residents, city officials weren’t sure what to expect. Anderson based his budget on an average of 500 to 550 users per day, knowing the summer and winter seasons would likely be busier than the spring and fall off-seasons.
“We’re going to have to hit the guest market hard when they’re here and find other ways to supplement things during the shoulder seasons – just like everyone else in town,” he said.
The ARC will be looking at increased programming to bring in users and is likely to review some of its fees during the budget process this fall. Program fees for individuals who don’t have an ARC pass are something of a deal right now, according to Anderson.
In addition, the facility is courting corporate groups that have expressed interest in booking the entire facility. To close the ARC to the public, groups must book the facility for a minimum of four hours – at $2,000 an hour. That’s $8,000 in revenue.
There has been no talk of cutting back on the facility’s hours of operation to cut costs, Anderson said. Rather, the staff will explore ways to increase use by an average of 100 people a day.
Based on user numbers so far, the operational deficit for 2004 could be $100,000 or more, he said.
The city has adequate reserves to cover a $40,000 shortfall this year, according to Steve Barwick, city manager. But, an additional $100,000 a year on top of the $300,000 the city already puts into subsidizing the facility would be “tough to swallow,” he said.
The city won’t be able to make any reasonable conclusions about long-term use of the ARC until it has a couple of summer and winter seasons under its belt and can judge how popular the facility will be with tourists.
The ARC has not yet seen its first ski season.
“The wintertime is clearly the missing piece – we haven’t seen a winter yet,” Barwick said.
How much to plug into the 2004 budget for operation of the ARC is something the City Council will have to wrestle with as it prepares next year’s budget in the coming months.
“One of the big unknowns in next year’s budget is what is that number really going to be,” Barwick said.
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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