“Build it and they will come.” Given the current climate, that business strategy might sound crazy. But when it comes to aquatic development, many in the industry are crazy — like a fox.
Aquatic designers and suppliers at a number of firms say that while business is down from last year, the difference is slight. Meanwhile, operators are optimistic new facilities will succeed.
“Our orders have been fairly consistent with last year. The only difference is, many projects are planned for completion later this year or early next year,” said Andrew Wray, director of sales, Whitewater West Industries Ltd. in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.
It’s business as usual for Scott Weiss, president of V.i.P. Schools. He’s working with community and school district leaders in Marion, Iowa, to construct a recreation facility that includes indoor aquatic amenities.“We feel there is no better time to move forward than now,” Weiss said.
For those moving forward, it appears the biggest challenge is financing. The nearly frozen credit markets mean loans aren’t an option, so private projects such as Weiss’ require upfront funding.
Public projects face a different situation. Because funding for things such as new aquatics centers often comes from bond measures or other revenue pools separate from general operating budgets, that money is specifically earmarked for the projects. But many state and local budgets are running huge deficits, so generating public support for new construction in the face of cutbacks and layoffs may be more than some leaders want to undertake, noted Scot Hunsaker, chief operating officer at St. Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker.
Randy Mendioroz agrees. “It’s pretty hard to justify new aquatics center projects when you can’t keep up with demand for basic services,” says Mendioroz, founder and principal of Aquatic Design Group in Carlsbad, Calif., which so far has approximately 25 projects lined up for this year (on par with 2008).
Still, some communities are continuing with new aquatic development in response to a need for recreation facilities. The Christopher High School gym and aquatics center project in Gilroy, Calif., is an example. The $16 million endeavor is a joint project between city and school district, slated for completion in 2009-10. It is moving forward even though decreased tax revenue, has left the city struggling to come up with its $4.5 million portion.
Hunsaker said that’s happening elsewhere, too. “They see that people still need quality-of-life amenities. We’re seeing memberships dramatically going up, and 10- to 20 percent increases in usage at park and recreation facilities.”
There’s one more big reason many say it makes good economic sense to build during this recession: Lower prices mean more for the money.
“Construction costs are extremely cheap right now,” Mendioroz said. “For anyone building, now is a great time.”