Back during the municipal election campaign, I sent out a news release that called on City Council to encourage the management of Servus Credit Union Place to offer a special $2 winter rate to St. Albert residents who wanted to run or walk on the facility’s indoor track. “When the snow flies,” I wrote then, “St. Albert residents should be able to use the Servus Place running track for a Twoonie.”
This, I argued, would result in a win-win situation that would bring people into the facility, some of whom might buy memberships to ease the facility’s deficit, which was then reported to be $900,000. At the same time, I suggested, it could also build support for Servus Place among the many taxpayers still skeptical about the whole idea and give St. Albert ratepayers something back for their contributions. It would also make a contribution to fitness and safety in St. Albert.
Well, the snow is flying now and the Servus Place annual deficit has climbed past $2 million and is likely to stay that way for several years. But the facility’s management is still charging $9 for an adult to use the running tack on a single-occasion basis. Presumably, they believe this strategy is likely to sell more annual memberships, which they desperately need to do. Of course, many of us suspect it is having the opposite effect.
Back in July, the Servus Place marketing and events manager responded to my news release by saying (in the words of the Gazette’s reporter) that the idea was “contrary to standard industry practices to charge day admission rates.” I begged to differ. Alas, in the heat of the election campaign, my letter to the editor went astray and never appeared. Here’s part of what I wrote then:
… Just because an idea’s new doesn’t make it bad. Indeed, there would be very few business success stories without new ideas. But in this case, I believe it’s incorrect to suggest that charging modest fees to use indoor running tracks in publicly funded facilities is unheard of, or even unusual.
Here are three examples: Single-entry admission to the running track at Calgary’s Olympic skating oval is just $3. Single-entry admission to the indoor running track at the Guildford Recreation Centre in Surrey, B.C., is $2.10 during the day. Single-entry admission to the indoor running track at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex in Waterloo, Ont., is free. In each case these facilities, like Servus Place, were funded by tax dollars to benefit their communities. In each case these fees apply year round.
[It] is right, of course, to point out that the current $9 rate gives users free rein to use the entire facility. But that’s not much of a bargain if all one wants to do is run, as would be the case with many residents during the winter months. Nor is it a bargain compared with similar facilities in the Edmonton region. For example, the comparable rate at Spruce Grove’s Transalta Tri-Leisure Centre is $7.75, at the Kinsmen Sports Centre in Edmonton it is $7.25, and at Sherwood Park’s Millennium Place it’s $6.50.
I stand by my view that charging a Twoonie to use the indoor running track at Servus Place during the winter is a good idea that would help sell memberships and benefit the citizens of St. Albert who are paying for the facility.
I would go even farther now. Instead of sticking to a marketing plan that is pretty clearly not working, Servus Place management should offer single day-use rates. Not just for the winter, but all year round. And not just for the track, but for the skating rink and the pool as well. They don’t all have to be a Twoonie, but $2 still makes sense for the running track in winter.
Except for the weather and the reported size of the deficit, nothing much has changed since last July. As I said then: “Servus Place should do a favour for those of us who live in St. Albert, and itself, by offering a Twoonie rate to walk or run on the indoor track.”