Kingsport panel recommends fees for using aquatic center

Matthew Lane • Dec 3, 2012 at 10:03 AM

KINGSPORT — City staff, working in conjunction with an eight-member advisory board, have recommended the daily, seasonal and annual membership rates of the aquatic center along with the projected financial impact the facility will have on the city’s budget during its first year of operation.

Kingsport’s aquatic center, under construction for nearly a year, is located on a 15-acre site behind The Cattails driving range off Wilcox Drive. The 50,000-square-foot facility will include indoor and outdoor pools and water features and be co-located with the new YMCA Wellmont Center. Estimated cost of both facilities is $26.3 million.

During a Board of Mayor and Aldermen work session Monday afternoon, city staff presented the proposed entrance fees for the aquatic center, including daily, seasonal and annual rates, and how much the facility’s first-year subsidy would be.

According to the proposal, the daily admission fee to the aquatic center for an adult would be $8; for seniors (age 50 and older) and youth ages 3 to 21, the price would be $6; while the family rate is $30. Children under 3 would be admitted free.

Three month, seasonal passes are proposed as follows: $125 for adults, $75 for youth and seniors and $200 for family. Annual memberships are recommended to be $325 for adults, $230 for youth and seniors and $475 for family

To help determine these rates, city staff worked, on and off, over the past three years on an operational analysis of the aquatic center, taking into consideration a number of pro formas for the facility along with site visits and comparisons to at least seven similar facilities in the Southeast region.

The fees recommended are only for the aquatic center and do not include any membership costs to the YMCA.

Charlie Glass, executive director of the YMCA, said there would not be a YMCA membership rate increase come May when the aquatic center opens. However, the YMCA would still have its annual, inflationary increase to its membership rates in February, Glass said.

According to the latest pro forma for the aquatic center, the estimated revenue for the first year of operations is approximately $1.25 million, which includes a $150,000 payment from the YMCA, as per the partnership agreement with the city. Expenses are estimated to be $1.43 million, which leaves a $184,500 subsidy from the city.

Chris McCartt, assistant to the city manager, said the projected subsidy is only $55,000 more than the yearly subsidy for Legion Pool.

“What we’re looking at the first year (attendance-wise) will probably be all we can handle,” McCartt said. “Then we’ll be setting ourselves up to keep that energy in years two and three and make sure we’re continuing the excitement and getting information out about the benefits of the facility.”

Alderman John Clark asked about three to five year projections on the financials of the aquatic center, given an aggressive sales and marketing campaign.

“We have a shot at doing better than this,” McCartt said. “The most critical thing for us is to be able to sustain what we initially throw out there and to keep people going. We don’t want the newness to wear off.”

Mayor Dennis Phillips noted the original projection for the subsidy came in at $300,000.

McCartt said that adding the lazy river increased expenses, but it is also projected to increase revenues.

Phillips said the recommended membership fees were more reasonable than he thought they would be.

Kingsport is planning to have a marketing firm on board and an aquatic center director hired by January. The proposed membership rates will likely be brought before the BMA after the first of the year. The facility is scheduled to open around the middle of May 2013.

The aquatic center is a $26 million project composed of two parts.

Kingsport’s portion includes a 50,000-square-foot indoor facility (natatorium) with a 50-meter competition/lap pool and three spring boards, a zero-entry 25-yard warm water pool, and a leisure pool with slide. The outdoor elements will include two water slides, a lazy river, climbing structure, beach volleyball court and concession stand.

Adjacent to this facility will be the new YMCA Wellmont Center — a 35,000-square-foot wellness center with an indoor playground, gymnasium, locker rooms and ChildWatch area.

The cost of the facility is estimated to be $22.5 million, with Kingsport’s portion being $16.9 million and the YMCA’s being $5.6 million. Including design and engineering costs and 50 acres of wetlands mitigation, the total cost of the project for Kingsport is approximately $19.3 million; for the YMCA the total is approaching $7 million.

Eastman Chemical Co. donated the 15.8 acre site for the aquatic center project, estimating the land was worth about $5.5 million.

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