Friday, October 19, 2007

The Business of Recreation

We all know there are certain things we SHOULD do, because they’re good for you. Exercising. Flossing. Not running with scissors. (It may be trite, but it’s still good advice.) One of these items is about to get a whole lot easier for the residents of Frisco. Next week, the Frisco Athletic Center is set to open near the corner of Preston and Wade. And in true Frisco fashion, it’s a doozy with 22,000 square feet of exercise space, racquetball courts, basketball and more. There’s a full-blown indoor water park, and another outdoor pool area still to come. In fact, the outdoor space is going to take up just as much area as the first building. There’s even a teen center that’ll provide entertainment and a safe place to hang out for the older kids. Certainly this is a facility of which we can all be proud, and fits the vision voters approved in the 2002 bond election. It stacks up to anything in Plano, McKinney or Allen. But it’s not without controversy. First, there are the membership fees. Some of our neighbors have decided that their facilities would be heavily subsidized by public funds. Thus, their resident user fees are comparably low. Our city council made the call that our center should be a self-sufficient facility, necessitating a much steeper fee structure. There’s also been some debate over the additional fees charged for activities. Originally, these fees were going to be charged for all additional activities, such as yoga classes and child care. After public feedback, the city decided to wrap those fees into the membership. Naturally, this is fine for those families that need day care and choose to use the add-on classes. But many residents wonder why they’re paying for services they’ll never use. Meanwhile, some activities, such as water aerobics, still carry a use fee. I expect that the city will continue to tweak the fee schedules as the facility matures and they get additional feedback from city residents, as is the case with all good businesses. Which brings us to the more significant issue, one which should be on our minds as Frisco continues to grow. What role should our city play in providing services that may be available from the private sector? One can certainly make the case that every city has a vested interest in promoting a healthy populace. And the new Athletic Center will provide some items that you can’t currently find elsewhere in Frisco. While we have a wealth of exercise clubs within the city limits, none of them provide the breadth of aquatic facilities, particularly for kids and teens. However, they do provide exercise equipment, basketball and racquetball courts. Thus, the new center will certainly compete with these private clubs on at least some level. Governments play a key role in ensuring the availability of a variety of services to its citizens, some of which are bound to conflict with private businesses. But where do you draw the line? There are other services that some cities provide that are also offered by private companies. One popular example is a golf course. Several area cities, including Dallas, Richardson, and Carrolton, maintain municipal golf courses. Here in Frisco, you can’t swing a 5-iron without slicing it in the water hazard on any number of public (though privately owned) courses. Do we really need another one? And if we do, should our city government get into the golf course business? At what point does the city decide it should provide a service, instead of leaving it to the private sector? An alternative solution is for cities to partner with private companies to provide benefits. A good example of this can be found in Pizza Hut Park and the surrounding soccer fields. By joining with the Hunt Sports Group and FC Dallas, our government helped create one of the finest soccer facilities in the state of Texas. The MLS team gets a new home, the city gets a new tax base, and residents – kids and adults alike – have the opportunity to play on great fields. I’m not suggesting that the Athletic Center is a bad idea. But I hope our city council and our next mayor will continue to look to the cooperative model that benefits everyone – businesses and residents – rather than taking a competitive stance that often costs more in the long run. And meanwhile, since I’ve already got my Founding Membership, you’ll probably find me sweating away starting next week. I hear it’s good for me.


Jeff Stoltz said...

Your editorial last week in the Frisco Enterprise caught my eye. You stated that governments do not need to be in business with the private sector. I totally disagree with your statement about Frisco not needing another golf course. First of all Frisco does not have but two public courses (The Trails of Frisco and Plantation). Cities need to make their little neck of the woods more pleasant for the residents and taxpayers. Plano, Carrollton, McKinney, Richardson, Wylie and Dallas all have public golf courses funded by the city. Just like our city takes care of the public parks it needs to have a public, city owned golf course with lower rates for the city residents. This makes you want to live in your choice of towns because it is nicer to live there. The city of Frisco should buy The Trails of Frisco and make it a city owned municipal golf course.

Jeff Stoltz

- Allen Biehl said...

Interesting points, Mr. Stoltz... I guess my initial reaction is, what percentage of Frisco residents play golf? 20%? 40? 60? I think the number is debatable... but the concept holds true. If there's sufficient demand for a golf, I'd rather see if it could partner with a private entity to provide the service, rather than getting into the business. If you're the owners of Plantation, how would you feel about your tax dollars going to support your competition?

Also, if the private entity that currently owns the Trails can't make it work, why would the government want to take on that onus, knowing that it can't even charge the same rates as the old owners?


Jeff Stoltz said...

Golf courses are just like city parks, they are to make living in your community a nicer place to live. Cities subsidize parks, swimming pools, etc. Golf courses should be no different.

Have a good day, Jeff Stoltz