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Federal Way rejects marketing plan for struggling Community Center

In a 4-to-3 vote Jan. 20, the city council rejected spending approximately $81,000 on a marketing plan aimed at giving the Federal Way Community Center an identity and increasing revenue.

Several council members agreed the strategic marketing and communications plan formed by Cipalla Communications Inc. could benefit the recreation and fitness facility.

But council members ultimately requested more information outlining direct correlations between the money proposed to be spent and projected goals of the marketing plan. A second vote on the plan will follow this provided data.

"Where's the spreadsheet that says what we're getting?" Mayor Jack Dovey asked. "If you can have a spreadsheet in Excel and I can click it, it would make me feel a little bit better."

The plan is expected to help the facility sell itself to new and existing customers. Implementing the plan would require identifying consistent communication procedures, producing a logo, targeting audiences and establishing clear marketing messages. Enhancing outreach efforts, increasing exposure, improving efficiency and containing costs at the center are vital aspects of the plan, according to a Jan. 20 city council agenda packet.

The overarching goal is to increase pass sales, drop-in visitors and event rentals.

"I really believe you need to market," city council member Linda Kochmar said. "You really shoot yourself in the foot if you don't market, especially during a down economy."

Show me the money

Money to implement the plan would come from the community center's existing 2009 budget and unused funding originally set aside for construction costs, said Mary Faber, Recreation and Cultural Services superintendent.

From the center's budget would come about $31,000 — and $50,000 would be pulled from unused and unallocated construction funding, originally set aside to complete the center, she said.

"It just makes sense to me to make this reasonable investment," council member Jeanne Burbidge said

Ideally, a marketing plan will increase pass sales 10 to 15 percent. Daily admission or drop-ins will increase 20 percent and event rentals will jump by 15 percent. Building and expanding relationships with current pass holders and known drop-in visitors is expected to increase customer loyalty and encourage membership renewals. Improving the center's Web site — making it easier to navigate — and opening and maintaining communications with the public about the center's value, accessibility, programming and events are just some areas of focus that could help the Community Center begin its turn-around.

Forming relationships with local businesses, such as hotels, to offer promotions for use of the center is also part of the plan. Marketing the center was planned to begin with a recognizable logo and tag line: "It all happens here."

"I love a lot of things you have in here. The thing I really like is your tag line," city council member Dini Duclos said.

Lofty goals?

However, Duclos feels the community center is setting its goals too high and hoping to achieve too large an increase in memberships, drop-ins and rentals in a one-year time span, she said. She advised city spokeswoman Linda Farmer and Faber, who both presented the plan to the council, to take the economy into consideration when carrying out a marketing plan.

Trying to achieve the plan's goals over a two- or three-year time period may be a wiser approach, Duclos said.

"My concern is these projections may be too high at this point," she said.

The marketing plan is not the first of Federal Way's efforts to increase revenue of the community center, which opened in March 2007. After the first year of operation, the city began taking a look at the facility's projected revenue compared to its actual revenue. It was expected to generate much more than it did that first year.

By the end of July 2007, the community center was producing 28 percent less year-to-date revenue than expected.

The consulting firm GreenPlay was hired in late September to conduct a six-month review of the center and evaluate how the community uses the facility. At that time, city staff realized less revenue was gathered from pass sales, and more than expected revenue from facility rentals was obtained. The council approved, in a 5-to-2 vote, spending $30,000 for the marketing plan this past June. Dovey and Deputy Mayor Eric Faison casted the dissenting votes.

Council member Mike Park said Tuesday that a marketing plan is essential.

"Our community center is premature as an ongoing amenity," Park said. "A lot of citizens still don't know we have a Federal Way Community Center."

Regardless of previous efforts to make the center profitable, a marketing plan is much-needed, resident H. David Kaplan said. This should have been established before the center opened its doors and postponing approval of the plan was unnecessary, he said.

"You can't measure what kind of return you get from a marketing plan," Kaplan said.

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