Reduced prices and special offers paid off for Spokane County aquatic centers this summer.
Parks Director Doug Chase and recreation manager Angela Simmons told county commissioners Tuesday that the new marketing strategy helped the county swimming program boost attendance and reduce its subsidy.
A one-third cut in regular admission prices at the Northside and Southside aquatic centers, additional bargains, less competition and a turn in the weather all helped, Simmons said.
Chase said the season was a “nail biter” until the late arrival of hot weather erased a potential $50,000 budget shortfall and boosted revenue $15,463 above expectations.
“We’re really, really pleased with the operations and the response of the community to the reduced fees and the increase in patrons served,” Chase said.
The performance would have been even better if the aquatic centers hadn’t exhausted their budget before the hot weather ended. The Southside center closed a week before Labor Day; the Northside center, too.
Chase said he expects a similar problem next year, prompting Commissioner Mark Richard to suggest opening a couple of weeks later. The pool season traditionally coincides with schools’ summer vacation – June 17 through Sept. 6 this year for Spokane Public Schools.
Including the swimming area at Liberty Lake Regional Park, attendance was up nearly 3 percent this summer, from 88,719 in 2010 to 91,250. Most of the gain was at the Northside and Southside aquatic centers.
Attendance at the Southside center rose more than 22 percent, from 29,895 to 36,555, while Northside attendance rose nearly 12 percent, from 18,039 to 20,177. Liberty Lake rose nearly 2 percent, from 33,948 to 34,518.
The numbers reflect the closure of Holmberg Pool, which drew 6,837 visits last year.
Last year’s $184,935 pool subsidy was reduced about 13 percent, to $161,059.
Simmons said a 33 percent reduction in admission charges – from $3 to $2 for children 3 through 5, and from $6 to $4 for those 6 and older – was a major factor in the gains. So was Spokane’s decision to double fees at its aquatic centers and more closely match the county’s prices.
Spokane and Spokane County now both charge $2 and $4, but Spokane’s $4 rate doesn’t kick in until age 18. Still, Chase said he is pleased with the new alignment and plans no rate change next year except a possible $1 discount for people 60 and older.
Revenue at the county aquatic centers plummeted in 2009 when Spokane opened similar centers that charged only one-third as much for admission – $1 and $2, compared to the county’s $3 and $6. In addition to slashing prices, the county aquatic centers began offering specials such as $1 root beer floats or three-for-two admission on cool days.
“We hope to continue those next year and maybe think of a couple more,” Chase said.