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New rec centre’s revenue stream plays part in 2018 budget talks

Andrew Philips

By Andrew Philips, Special to Postmedia Network

Although it's still a year from opening, the city's new recreation centre's potential revenue stream played a significant role in council discussions Monday.

During a 2018 budget session at city hall, councillors had a look at the projected membership rates and other revenue generators for the facility slated to open next summer.

Coun. Ralph Cipolla said he's concerned potential sports tourism revenues haven't been fully explored since that could help balance the books with preliminary estimates pegging revenues at $2.4 million against $3.3 million in expenses.

"I didn't see any money for marketing for sports tourism. Sports tourism is going to play a key role to offset costs for residents," said Cipolla, who also wondered whether the city has explored creating commercial ventures at the facility such as a bank kiosk, something he noted is needed with two downtown bank branches closing soon.

Ray Merkley, the city's parks, recreation and culture director, said staff reviewed the rates charged by other recreational facilities across the province to come up with the figures that would see a family pay $95 a month with individual rates coming in at $37 and $25 monthly for senior citizens, students and children.

"We reviewed multiple budgets for similar facilities," Merkley said.

On an annual basis, the rate would be $275 for seniors, children and students, $407 for an adult and $1,045 for a family. There's also a full range of daily fee options for drop-in gym, swim and track visits as well as renting certain parts of the facility.

The $53.6 million project includes an aquatics centre with three pools, a gymnasium, fitness centre, running tracks and a number of multi-purpose rooms.

As well, Cipolla said there could be separate fees charged to use the centre with one for Orillia residents and another for those living in neighbouring communities.

Mayor Steve Clarke said presentations are being conducted with surrounding municipalities to gauge their interest in contributing financially to the project on behalf of their citizens.

"We will likely go back and ask for some financial help," Clarke said. "One of the goals of having a community centre is having it accessible for all."

The city estimates about 1,500 people will purchase memberships with hopes high that additional memberships will be sold to students attending Lakehead University and Georgian College.

Speaking of affordability, Coun. Tim Lauer wondered whether the city wants to look at the YMCA model.

"The YMCA offers an option if you can't afford it (a membership)," Lauer said. "No one is refused. Are we doing that?"

Merkley said there are currently no plans to replicate the YMCA's means model for assessing need.

But while Lauer floated the means-test option, he also wondered whether the rate charged to seniors might be too low.

"I wouldn't mind taking a second look at some of these fees; the seniors' fees specifically," Lauer said. "My wife, who is a senior, pays considerably more at the YMCA. We should look at a means evaluation at this point since some seniors are often sitting on a sizable income."

But recreation services manager Marcia Russell said the rates presented are based on fees charged at comparable municipal facilities.

"They're quite similar to Barrie and all of them have significant cuts for seniors," she said.

Coun. Ted Emond said well-to-do seniors who might be feeling guilty about paying lower rates could always make a capital donation towards the project.

And while operating expenses such as staffing can likely be accurately determined in advance, there are unknown factors that can creep into a facility's future budget with Merkley pointing out electricity costs for Rotary Place have jumped 47% over the past five years.

Coun. Mason Ainsworth said he worries about Rotary Place's future since some programming will be moved to the new centre.

"I'm still very concerned about Rotary Place," said Ainsworth, who also wondered whether the city is holding out too much hope that post-secondary students will use the facility.

"Are Lakehead and Georgian College students going to go there? They already have their own fitness facilities and can pay lower fees at other centres."

Councillors also wondered about attracting other potential large-scale users like the OPP to the centre.

"We have had some discussions, but a lot are waiting for the doors to open," Russell said, adding the OPP might be interested in the aquatics centre while offering water polo also remains a goal.

But Emond said that within six months to a year, the facility he describes as the "best north of the GTA" should be a going concern.

"I think these (user) estimates are really conservative," Emond said. "But, we'll only known when the doors open. I ask my colleagues to have some patience. We've invested in this building. It's not going to go away."

Added Clarke: "After six months to a year (of its opening), we'll have a better idea of where we're going in terms of revenues."

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