Improving communities through sport

The Guide to Tackling Parks and Recreation’s Biggest Issues

Portrait of happy child with face mask on playground after covid-19 lockdown.

Many of the nation’s parks and recreation systems are facing a far-reaching set of challenges that threaten their ability to serve the physical and economic needs of the communities around them. Countless reports demonstrate how the presence of recreational assets can enhance the quality of life of residents, solve a number of societal issues, and drive positive economic outcomes. Yet these versatile facilities are becoming increasingly hampered by budget cuts and misconceptions about their relevance and impact. And as our country continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the likelihood of recreation facilities being left on the chopping block increases. These challenges have made it difficult to foster the growth needed to maintain current assets, build new ones, and provide innovative programming that meets the needs of residents.

Optimizing parks and recreation systems will require a targeted effort to address three areas that are the essential to reaching their potential to enhance and define communities:

  • Protecting and increasing parks and recreation system funding 
  • Improving the operational performance of parks and recreation assets
  • Improving facility conditions and building new parks and recreation assets

Protecting and Increasing Parks and Recreation System Funding 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.3 percent of total state and local government expenditure focuses on parks and recreation. As economic uncertainty grows, this percentage has the potential to decrease. The key to increasing funding is demonstrating and enhancing the perceived value of these assets. Real data is needed to not only show specific positive outcomes in areas such as economic impact and environmental preservation, but the diversity of areas that parks and recreation centers touch.

The Sports Facilities Companies are working to solve this issue through the development of impact calculators that demonstrate the value of parks and recreation. These analysis tools produce data on the monetary impact of parks and recreation systems in a variety of areas including home values, health outcomes, environmental impact, tourism, and job creation.

Beyond analysis tools, it’s important to build campaigns that inform decisionmakers and residents about the holistic impact of recreation programming and places to play. Annual reporting must be used as an internal gauge for success, to show areas that need improvement, and to find opportunities. Along with measuring overall impact, reporting is most effective when focused on three key performance indicators:

  • Facility or park usage
  • Customer feedback
  • Program participation

FRPA Parks Calculator

In one of our most important initiatives, SFA worked with Florida Recreation and Park Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Sports Foundation, and dozens of other professionals and organizations to demonstrate the impact of parks across several areas. These areas included property values, tourism spending, job creation, environmental savings, public safety, and health care cost savings.  The Parks Impact Calculator is educating and empowering parks and recreation professionals as well as elected officials throughout the state to recognize the value of programming and places to play. The reports that are generated by the calculator are being used to inform funding decisions for parks systems throughout Florida.  The Florida Parks Impact Calculator is now being used as the baseline for similar state-specific calculators that are being developed in other parts of the country.

Improving the Operational Performance of Parks and Recreation Assets

All organizations must seek continual improvement in order to adjust to an evolving business and societal landscape and meet the needs of their customer base. Parks and recreation agencies are no different. In order to be a catalyst for economic growth, engage citizens, and receive support from local decisionmakers, assets must perform at the highest level and provide relevant services and programming to the community. These assets are engaged in a fierce battle for a portion of city budget with other departments as well as with privately owned companies for consumers. Focusing on these best practices can provide the critical boost needed to win many of these battles:

  • Creating relevant programming: Your community’s needs and preferences will evolve with time. Continually checking in with residents and developing relevant programming is essential. For example, the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau wanted to increase community usage of Elizabethtown Sports Park. To meet this need, Sports Facilities Management developed programming that drew the community to E-Town’s miracle field (a baseball/softball field for children with special needs) and worked with little league organizations to host tournaments at the facility. Both strategies focused on activities that addressed the interests of the community and successfully brought a larger portion of local residents to the complex.
  • Community partnerships: A healthy parks and recreation system leads to a healthy community from a physical and economic standpoint, so it’s critical that all facets of the community contribute to the success of your assets. This can be accomplished through partnerships with schools, local businesses, and hospitals. All of which have a deep interest in the physical and financial health of the community.
  • Outsourcing facility management: Many facilities are great at some aspects of operations but challenged by others. In fact, it’s difficult to achieve operational efficiency in all areas. In many cases, parks and recreation assets don’t possess the resources necessary to accomplish this. By outsourcing facility management to a company that focuses on recreation venues, you gain access to specialized expertise that can help optimize operational functions including human resources, marketing, accounting, facility maintenance, and the customer experience. An outsourced facility management company can also develop new programming.

Improving facility conditions and building new parks and recreation assets

Periodically, parks and recreation systems must evaluate their assets to ensure they are not only in good physical condition, but that they are meeting the needs of community members. Wear and tear come with continued usage. This can be resolved by updating equipment when appropriate. Evolving with the needs of your community requires input from its members and a plan to gather the resources necessary to meet their definition of success. One method for determining needs and developing an effective plan is conducting an optimization study. An optimization study starts with determining the community’s vision for recreation. It’s then followed by an analysis of current assets to determine the gap between the community’s desire and a system’s current offerings. The findings of that analysis can be used to develop a plan for filling that gap. This may be developing a new sports tourism destination or making system-wide improvements to all facilities. For facility development, a critical piece of this plan will be creating a financial forecast. The financial forecast gives investors a comprehensive outlook on the development’s potential to meet its desired outcome. It will examine several factors including the facility’s projected revenues based on program model and operating expenses, and an estimate of construction and start-up costs, among many other items. With the necessary funding in place, the plan can be implemented and measured to determine effectiveness.

At the Sports Facilities Companies, we’ve seen what strong parks and recreation systems can do for communities throughout the country and we’re here to help with services such as parks and recreation master planning and full-time facility management. To learn more, contact us today!

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