NEW PORT RICHEY — With dismal financial returns on the city's Recreation and Aquatic Center, City Council members are poised to pull the plug on an expansion and more equipment for the facility.
Long dubbed the "Jewel of the City," the Van Buren Street complex has enhanced life in New Port Richey, but operating it has been a financial drain, City Council members agreed at a workshop Tuesday on the status of the center.
In May, the center's gymnasium, workout room, and pools will have been open for four years, but each year the facility has lost money. With the projection for 2011 no different, council members plan to scrap $360,000 in planned expansions and upgrades, including $200,000 for a fitness center expansion, $100,000 for new fitness equipment and $60,000 for a tennis wall.
Council members are also considering cutting the center's hours to save money.
Since the center opened in 2007, the city has spent far more operating it than it has pulled in, a study by New Port Richey's Parks and Recreation Department says.
In 2007, the center made $320,210, but operations cost $789,609. Last year the center pulled in $387,751, but operating costs topped $1.1 million. In 2011, projections are for the center's revenue to be $451,050, while the costs are expected to surpass $1.2 million.
The center had 220,300 visits in 2010. But three jobs have been cut at the facility since it opened. And although it remains open seven days a week, hours of operation have dropped from 94 to 91 hours a week, Parks and Recreation Director Elaine Smith told council members.
"I think some tough decisions are going to confront this council," Mayor Scott McPherson said of the facility's financial woes.
McPherson said New Port Richey has met its goal in constructing the center with a mission at the outset of enhancing quality of life for its citizens, but pushed for a change in "philosophy" within the city in order to begin getting a financial return.
"We need to start looking at it as a return on our investment," he said.
Council member Ginny Miller agreed the expansion funding should be tabled.
"Do we need to make it work a little better? Absolutely," Miller said.
Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said the city should also look at what other recreation centers and gyms in the area are charging for memberships to make sure the city is collecting enough from its users outside the city.
There will also be an effort to inform the public on what the center has to offer.
The city plans to spend $10,000 on a marketing study to determine how to best advertise the facility.
"We need to put forward more of an effort to get the word out," McPherson said in an interview. "So I was very happy to see the funding for a marketing study."