NEW PORT RICHEY — Two and a half years have passed since the city opened its $14.1 million recreation center and aquatic complex, and already Elaine Smith wishes she had a larger fitness center and more activity rooms.
Some nights, Smith said, activities spill over to the center's gym, or off-site at Peace Hall, just north of Sims Park, she said.
"Virtually, some days, we're bursting at the seams," said Smith, the city's parks and recreation director. "But that's a great problem to have."
The city doesn't have any expansion plans on the drawing board, but the success of the 34,000-square-foot facility is evident in the numbers: About 350,000 people used the center in 2008.
They flock to Van Buren Street to shoot pool in the game room, play tennis or tweak their moves on the gleaming hardwood floor of the center's dance studio.
The dues to use the facility don't cover its operations just yet. The city pays to run the complex. But for every $1 the city puts in, Smith brings in 43 cents that goes back to the city's coffers.
Revenue has increased steadily since the center opened. The complex took in $310,000 from May 2007 to December 2007; $390,000 from January to December 2008 and $402,000 from January until Nov. 14 of this year.
About 64 percent of the memberships to the facility belong to city residents.
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On a recent afternoon, Sabrie O'Donnell laid on a cushioned mat as her grandmother pointed the ninth-grader's right leg toward the ceiling.
A television blared CNN in the background, and a handful of people in T-shirts and shorts jogged on treadmills and stationary bikes.
"The facility is beautiful," said retiree Karay Stevenson, 65, who comes with her granddaughter about four times a week after she gets out of school at Ridgewood High. "It's right here and you're able to support the city by being a part of it."
Aside from a couple of pools and a 25-foot water slide, amenities include 26 treadmills, circuit weight machines, stationary bikes and elliptical trainers in the fitness center, tai chi, yoga and karate classes, and a 14,440-square-foot basketball gym.
Former Parks and Recreation director Bob Consalvo, who is now a City Council member, talked to officials in cities such as Largo and Clearwater during the planning stages of New Port Richey's recreation center.
Consalvo said the old recreation center was about 40 years old and in dire need of a makeover.
"It really met my expectations," he said of the new center. "I'd like to see us come up with the money to add another slide. We built the facility to expand on it."
Smith, who took over Consalvo's post a few years back, said the public's response to the center has exceeded her expectations.
"The response is higher than what my expectations would have been from a relatively small city," she said. "The patrons are so supportive of everything we do and that's what's made us so successful."
Since they joined the center in 2008, Stevenson said all three of her grandchildren have enjoyed using the swimming pools and basketball court.
"It doesn't get any prettier with the river running through the city and having this (center) available to us," she said. "It gives it a small, hometown atmosphere."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.