How can you add value to your facility? The shrinking economy brings that question to the forefront more than ever before, according to Scot Hunsaker, chief operating officer of St. Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker. He says after Sept. 11, the last period of economic downturn, business slowed as resources were reallocated to public safety projects, but things rebounded quickly after the initial investments. Hunsaker doesn't expect the current crisis to turn quite as easily, but points to several factors that may help the commercial pool market remain viable.

"Sales tax revenues are shrinking, but communities will need to continue to make some kind of investments in quality of life projects," he notes. "It may seem counterintuitive to go against the overriding trends, but it's a necessity to continue thriving."

He adds that given the slow development and construction markets, public entities that make the investment in aquatics facilities now will be able to take advantage of pricing.

"Counsilman has had several projects come in under budget, and that kind of environment enables those who are moving forward with projects to get more 'bang for the buck.' You might think people would be scaling back to save money, but actually they're able to add on because bids are coming in lower."

What does this mean for the long run? Operators and designers are striving to "do it right the first time," Hunsaker says, creating facilities that will last. "Capital costs are always going to be higher for such projects, but there's greater interest in things like sustainability, planning flexibility for the future and creative design." he adds.

Cash-strapped patrons are looking for added value as well. "[During tough times] public recreation facilities see greater use. This is an ideal opportunity for parks to create loyalty among users," Hunsaker says.

The same is true for commercial waterparks and destination-oriented aquatics venues. "People want more quality time with family and loved ones," he observes.

What's the bottom line? Hunsaker says being asked to do more with less is not a new phenomenon in aquatics, but that idea looks different now. "The thing that makes it more interesting for us now is that we've seen increasing emphasis on the leisure experience, and growing attendance at aquatics facilities, concurrent with a re-evaluation of regulatory codes and increasing publicity of issues like crypto," he explains. "It's a lot easier to generate business than manage expenses, and so the challenge to all operators is so be fiscally sustainable and create an experience that guests are willing to visit time and time again."