Completed in July, 2010, the Camp Bowie Family Aquatic Center is one of Brownwood’s newest and most popular attractions, on the rare days it is actually open. Features include:
- 7,000 sq. ft. Recreation Pool
- Slide tower with flume slide
- Water geysers
- Tot slide
- Lily-pad walk
- Four lap lanes
- Springboard diving
- Zero beach entry
- Lazy river
- Water basketball
The $6 million dollar Aquatic Center opened on June 1st, and closes for the season on August 10th, in the middle of the dog days of summer. With just 2 sessions covering 6 days a week, the Aquatic Center has a mere 61 operating days in 2014. That’s 16.7% of the year, or 47.3% of the traditional summer season (June 22-September 21). The Examiner feels that the City of Brownwood is stubbornly mismanaging a resource that could spur growth and gentrify the industrial area.
The Aquatic Center has shown tremendous appeal to all demographics, not just in Brownwood proper, but in surrounding communities and even counties. According to a 2012 study done by the Institute of Urban Studies / School of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington, the old Camp Bowie pool averaged around 2,200 visitors a day while the Aquatic Center debuted to over 15,000 visitors a day. With increased demand, one would assume the supply would be extended, as it is in even the most basic logistical situations. Sadly, this isn’t the case in Brownwood.
With a conservative single-day analysis, assuming 2,000 visitors under the age of 13 pay $2 and 1,000 visitors pay the full admission price of $3, that’s $7,000 in one-day profits. Let’s look at a high demand day. We will assume 10,000 daily visitors, 6,000 of which are over the age of 13 and pay full admission, 4,000 of which are under the age of 13 and pay a dollar less to enter. That’s $26,000 in a single day. With proper marketing, longer hours and days of operation, and future capital improvements to increase capacity, the Aquatic Complex could easily be a key revenue generator for the Parks Department. As it stands now, the Aquatic Complex is a white elephant that will take (estimating 10k profit per operating day, and factoring in repairs/wear and tear) 800 days to pay break even, or, roughly 14 years given the city’s current hours of operation. This estimate does not factor in the amount of money the city pays for insurance (both property and liability) as the Examiner was unable to procure these numbers, but it’s bound to be quite high.
So, the question is, why would the city invest so much in something to hardly use it? One commonly cited theory is ‘school’, miserly wages paid to the lifeguards (slightly higher than minimum wage), most of whom are area students looking for summer employment. If the pool operated an expanded season, additional revenues would allow for hiring better trained staff and paying staff higher wages to retain them. Being a lifeguard is an extremely stressful position, and one can’t blame the staff for looking for other employment that not only adheres to “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage”, but involves far less risk.
There are many small and simple adjustments that would allow for both higher revenues and happier residents. Additional improvements to the facility could increase operating hours and pay for themselves with more revenue streams. Improvements could include an air supported dome to allow for winter swimming, and the surrounding sports complex facilities could host a walk of lights in Christmastime. In fact, the aforementioned UTA study recommended such things for Brazoria, who used Randol Mill Park in Arlington as one example. Wiggins Pool could be closed, with resources shifted to Camp Bowie during high demand periods. Changes to zoning could allow for small businesses to operate, catering to the pool crowd. Burger joints, Ice cream shops, even a lounge with a large deck overlooking the pool. This is a regional attraction, yet is treated like a podunk wading pond.
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