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Officials consider hiring a marketing director as the New Port Richey facility loses money.

As the city's recreation center continues to lose money, officials are considering hiring a marketing director to enhance the facility's profile and drum up more memberships.

The New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center on Van Buren Street - long dubbed the "Jewel of the City" - posted losses again last year. The city collected $453,000 in revenue but spent more than $1 million to run it. The center, which opened in 2007 with $320,000 in revenue and $789,609 in expenditures, has never come close to breaking even.

The numbers led the city to spend $15,000 for a consultant, Ballard*King and Associates, to conduct a marketing study. The City Council on Tuesday received a sobering draft of the study that outlines the need for change.

Ballard's report found rays of hope, with revenues increasing since the center opened. By 2020, however, the consultant projected that the gap between revenue and operating costs could reach $1 million, and New Port Richey "could potentially be facing a crisis as the recreation center losses continue to mount." The best the city can hope for is 50 to 60 percent cost recovery over the next three to five years, according to the study.

Ballard's study suggested ramping up marketing efforts to increase revenue, so city officials are now looking at creating a marketing budget to be used solely for the promotion of the center. That budget would include hiring a marketing director, as the study also found that the center is struggling for recognition in the area.

The study found that with about 80 percent of the center's memberships held by city residents, New Port Richey could do more to market the center to people living outside the city limits. Mayor Bob Consalvo suggested a strong marketing effort in the county within a 10- to 12-mile radius of the center.

"I'm in favor of doing anything we can to keep it open," said Consalvo, who oversaw efforts to build the rec center when he served as parks and recreation director. "We haven't done the advertising needed to really promote it. It's a fabulous facility, and we need to let people know it's there."

The study also asked for input from the city about the possibility of changing the fee structure, which charges non-city residents more for memberships.

Non-resident rates for membership that are considerably higher than the rates charged to residents can discourage participation, according to a report to the council by New Port Richey parks and recreation director Elaine Smith and City Manager John Schneiger.

Amenities and operations could also be altered to save money and garner interest, with Smith and Schneiger seeking expansion of the fitness area to include more equipment and establish a child watch area. Also, the volume and the use of the aquatic facility do not justify keeping all of the pools open for six months out of the year, according to their report.

Schneiger said staffers will come up with a plan for a marketing budget and will bring the matter to the council, possibly next month.

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The 'Jewel of the City'

The New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center at 6630 Van Buren St. includes a lap pool (open weather permitting), a children's pool and a dive and plunge pool with a 25-foot-tall slide (open seasonally); a 14,400-square-foot basketball gymnasium; a fitness center with more than two dozen pieces of exercise equipment; and activity rooms that host everything from cheerleading to karate. Membership prices vary. For more information call (727) 841-4560 or visit