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Federal Way votes to give community center $23K marketing boost

The city hopes to pull the Federal Way Community Center out of its financial woes.

Despite dissenting votes from Mayor Jack Dovey and Deputy Mayor Eric Faison, the Federal Way City Council voted 5-2 on June 17 to spend $23,500 on a marketing plan for the year-old facility. The community center’s inability to meet its business plan projections has been a topic of discussion among city management and the public, beginning only six months after the facility opened in March 2007.

City management decided to take more drastic steps to turn the community center into a money-maker. Federal Way resident H. David Kaplan told the council during public comment Tuesday, prior to the council’s vote on a marketing plan, that the city needed materials, similar to tourism enhancement efforts, to attract more visitors to the community center.

“You need to get a marketing specialist,” he said.

The majority of the council members agreed with Kaplan.

“We really don’t have the image we need built,” city council member Dini Duclos said.

Moving forward

The council voted to hire Cipalla Communications Inc., teaming with Betz and Co. Inc., to create a marketing plan. Special attention will be paid to increasing single adult annual passes, drop-in pass sales and facility rentals, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said.

The firms will create messages and marketing materials to promote the community center.

Target audiences will be identified and the first year of the business plan will be reviewed, according to the proposal for services. Work will begin immediately and is expected to conclude in October.

“It would appear to me to be appropriate to spend $23,500 for a professional look at the community center,” city council member Linda Kochmar said. “I certainly don’t see a downside to it.”

The money will be taken from the community center fund, which is similar to a reserve fund, Farmer said. It will put a significant dent in the reserve, she said.

“I think it’s a bad use of the money,” Dovey said.

Faison said he is not sure the time is right to invest in the marketing plan.

“I’m not completely convinced it is needed at this point,” he said.

Continuing efforts:

The marketing plan was preceded by other efforts to bring profits and public approval to the $20.6 million community center.

Six months after its grand opening, city officials met to converse on why the center was not doing as well as expected.

As of July 31, 2007, the community center was generating 28 percent less year-to-date revenue than expected. Pass sales did not meet their projected goals. The consulting firm GreenPlay was hired in September to conduct a review of the recreation center.

Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services director Mary Faber worked with the group to evaluate the center’s revenues, expenditures, operating costs and business plan.

“We are revisiting what our business is,” Faber said at that time.

Following the evaluation, city officials stepped up their efforts to promote the community center as a gathering place and destination in Federal Way.

At the annual city council retreat in January, the community center was discussed once again — and more changes were ordered. Pass discounts were offered and customer service increased. Program opportunities were expanded and gym rental prices dropped. More changes are planned to take effect this summer.

Faison advised the council to take a lesson and not build large community facilities in out-of-site locations that are not adequately serviced by transit.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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