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How to Create a Successful Community Recreation Center

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When you think about a successful community recreation center, what does it look like? When you walk down the halls, what activities are taking place? Who’s there? How large is the facility? These questions help you frame what you would consider as success for the recreation center in your town. Asking yourself these questions is the first step in bringing a new recreation center to reality.

Community recreation centers have the power to drive so many outcomes for your city from helping kids develop life experience and skills through summer camps to serving as a concert venue for new artists. It all starts with a vision, community support, and a comprehensive plan for carrying out the concept. Below are steps that, through our experience, have helped achieve unrivaled success for communities throughout the country:

Build the Collective Vision

As mentioned in the intro, it all starts with the vision. Buildings are birthed from vision. Someone has to see a need in their community or sense an opportunity. However, for the vision to gain momentum, it needs support from others in the community. Talk to the government and business leaders in your community. Also, share your vision with school leaders and the general public. While you don’t want to muddy the vision with too many differing opinions, you want to gather support. That support (or community will as it could be described) can help you when it comes to funding and ensuring the facility is relevant for a large portion of people.

Talking with your community about your vision has an additional, yet, equally important impact. Each community has needs that aren’t currently being fulfilled. Sharing your vision with your community in the early stages of development gives you a more comprehensive picture of what the recreation center needs to accomplish.

Is it Feasible?

This is the next question once a vision has been defined. It’s one thing to have a number of people say they want a recreation center with certain features, but it requires a hard look at data to determine the type of facility that is most likely to be successful in your area. A feasibility study must be conducted to assess the facility concept based on a variety of market factors. At the Sports Facilities Companies, we conduct feasibility studies that examine market and demographic conditions along with competitors and real-world financial and operational data from communities throughout the country. This will provide you with a comprehensive picture of what it will take to execute your recreation center concept successfully. It’s important to note that your vision may change in this phase or “right size” as we like to call it, based on the report. In fact, this is the case for about 40 percent of the projects we’ve guided.

Additionally, a financial forecast is needed to give potential investors a clear picture of a variety of factors that can dictate success. A financial forecast looks at construction and start-up costs, operational costs, and projected revenues by project or product among many other items.

Seeking Funding

The viable recreation center concept that was refined through feasibility and financial forecasting now needs be pitched to potential investors. The right investor mix is critical at this stage. What do investors bring to the facility besides capital? Can they lure more investors? Can they add to the mission? An example of a good potential investor would be a medical system that has a shared interest in building healthy communities. Also, while there are recreation centers that are privately-funded and ones that are publicly-funded, we are seeing a number of communities working with the private sector to form a public-private partnership for facility development. These partnerships harness the public sector’s access to land, tax incentives, and capital from the public sector.

In terms of the process of obtaining development funding, a funding strategy must be established based on the specific costs of the facility. These costs can be found in the financial forecast. Presentations to potential investors must be developed and executed. If the facility is being funded in part by the community, presentations to the city officials or the public must be developed as well.

Designing the Next Great Community Recreation Center

With funding commitments in place, a design firm can now be brought on to begin the design of the facility.  The design should be based on the refined concept that was developed during the feasibility and financial forecast stage. This design can be refined for sports, event, or recreation-specific elements through the venue planning process. It’s this process that ensures that requirements for the programming that will take place in the facility are accounted for in the design. This includes court surfaces, turf, operation and technological schematics, and wayfinding and signage along with a number of other items. This design is then passed on to a construction company that develops the facility.

While the Recreation Center is Constructed, the Business is Being Built

Your recreation center will compete with a number of both private and public facilities for guests. The more thought that goes into how you bring people through your doors and how all parts of your facility will operate to ensure they have a great experience, the more likely it is that the recreation center will achieve its definition of success. While the facility is being constructed start hiring a staff, developing operational procedures, and create and execute a marketing and branding plan. The latter will involve drawing back on the needs of your community, your facility’s benefits, and gaps in the competitive landscape to aggressively developing messaging to engage your audience. Using tools like email marketing, social media, and search engine optimization is a part of a good marketing and branding plan.

Opening Day

It can be long road, often up to three years, but it will be a tremendous feeling when you open those doors to an excited community. There are many ways to conduct an opening day event, but ultimately, you want to make a strong connection with the community via the event and let as many people know about your recreation center as possible. This will include inviting local news outlets, social media influencers, city officials, and, of course, the public to the event.

Creating a successful recreation center is a detailed process, but there is help. The SF Companies have worked with thousands of communities nationwide to harness the power of recreation. Ready to start? Contact us at 727-474-3845.

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