Park district continuing to grow with the community
By Cole Higlin, Mandan Park District Director
All I want for Christmas is a new Recreation Center for Mandan.
It’s been a while since the Mandan Park District created any buzz regarding our partnership with the Bismarck YMCA. Like many projects, there are many pieces of the puzzle that require patience, while we wait on the final decision. We continue to meet, making sure the process is carefully thought out.
During the park district’s strategic planning retreats, we have always wanted to find a way to make the former Community Center into a full service Recreation Center. Discussions started over two and a half years ago, between the YMCA and park district. Some of the first meetings included local businesses, such as Cloverdale, with TJ Russell demonstrating the need for his employees. The Bismarck YMCA completed a renovation a few years ago and realizes the need for future growth. They have no room to expand at their current location. Around the same time, the park district moved out of the former Community Center. Each time we discussed partnering, we couldn’t find a reason to prevent us from moving forward.
As time went on, the YMCA and park district hired an architect and consultants to research what a facility would cost to construct. As we started to discuss construction costs, our community saw tremendous growth, which brought with it an increase in construction costs and labor shortage concerns. It became evident that to be built the right way, we needed to secure a partner or large donor. The YMCA felt they needed additional information to support the needs, which led to us partnering with a market study of population, drive time, age demographics, household income and future residential growth. The study recognized that there is a need using Bismarck-Mandan combined population and it cannot succeed without both communities.
To make the facility work, it was determined that we needed 2,200 new members and retain the 300 current Raging Fitness members. The next step was a phone survey and online survey, which I felt was most important. It told us if both communities would actually join the facility and what dollar amount they felt comfortable paying (no surprise, the lowest pricing was preferred). One area of concern would be if Bismarck folks would travel across the river to Mandan for health and fitness. We had to support the fact that currently we have 60,000 people annually coming to Raging Rivers and 70 percent of our season ticket holders are from Bismarck. These are the same kids and families we want to attract to the Recreation Center.
The site at Raging Rivers made sense with a lot of the infrastructure and space already available. The parking lot is only used during the summer when recreational facilities see a decrease in use. The access to the site provided quick drive times from all areas of Bismarck-Mandan.
One of the questions I am frequently asked is, “How will the facility be managed?” The concept we felt was most beneficial and in line with other park districts across the nation, was to have the YMCA manage and operate the facility. With the park district taking a step back, we allow consistency from the current YMCA to the new Mandan YMCA. This allows for consistency in staff, policies and pricing structures, as members will be able to use both facilities.
The park district would continue to operate Raging Rivers, developing a membership package with the YMCA. The park district’s role would be to help facilitate bringing the project to Mandan and protect our community’s needs. In order for the project to become a reality, we would have to provide capital dollars toward the project, matching the YMCA contribution. The park district would own the land and building, and lease the building to the Bismarck YMCA. The lease payment would be determined by the amount of debt required by the park district. The facility lease payment would be built into the operational budget that the YMCA feels is workable.
Once that number has been determined, the size and amenities of the facility can be determined. The YMCA knows their field really well and has solid data that supports what needs to be in a facility to make it work financially. The list of amenities discussed includes cardio machines, selector machines and free weights, daycare, aerobics classes and a gym-walking track. At this time there will not be a pool as part of the project, since we both currently operate indoor pools.
As we took a couple of months to digest and really think about how to move forward, the Bismarck YMCA had to decide how they would fund their portion. In order to match capital funds 50-50, the YMCA would have to do a pledge drive.
The current YMCA is still carrying the debt from the recent renovation and has to determine current needs, future needs in north Bismarck and the Mandan site. The YMCA had explored land acquisition in north Bismarck for a satellite site that will also address the growth Bismarck.
Along with the many changes, Sanford completed its recent merger of Medcenter One. Sanford has constructed beautiful recreation facilities in Sioux Falls and Fargo. We felt that we needed to have a conversation with Sanford Health administration to discuss their long term plans regarding a recreation center and potential partnering with our idea. The meeting went great and there is some serious consideration. I hope to have more details in the future.
As 2013 gets closer and closer, our New Year’s resolution is to hopefully make our dream a reality. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.