Tue, Oct. 15

Editorial: Cottonwood still growing into recreation center

The myriad strategies outlined this week to make the Cottonwood Recreation Center more profitable missed one key point.


Few seem to realize the fact that Cottonwood is way ahead of the norm in Arizona in providing the community with such a facility.

The city council and staff’s preoccupation with present-day dollars and cents raises the question of whether they really understand what Cottonwood has in the recreation center.

By Arizona standards, for a community the size of Cottonwood to have such a facility is unprecedented.

In fact, looking at bottom-line numbers, Cottonwood probably needs to increase its market population by at least 50,000 people to legitimize having the kind of recreation center it has.

That’s the standard elsewhere in Arizona for the communities that have a facility such as the Cottonwood Recreation Center.

When making such comparisons, you can throw Phoenix and Tucson out the window. Both of those metropolitan areas have a multitude of recreation centers on par with what Cottonwood offers, all strategically placed throughout their cities.

Taking the next step down from Phoenix and Tucson, there are only nine other municipalities in Arizona that provide their communities with recreational centers similar to what Cottonwood has.

It’s the only time you will hear Cottonwood’s name mentioned in the same breath as Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, Tempe, Glendale and Peoria when making such municipal comparisons.

Those are the standard-size communities you find elsewhere in Arizona that have recreation or aquatic centers.

So, yea, it’s only natural that Cottonwood has been bottom-line challenged in operating the rec center. The community is still growing into the facility.

Tuesday’s discussion of cutting the rec center’s financial-loss margin no doubt is healthy. Kudos to City Manager Ron Corbin for raising the bar in challenging the city’s Recreation Department to bring operational expenses closer in line with what it costs to keep the facility’s doors open.

Those discussions hit heavy on the operational model and marketing strategies needed to get more paying customers through the door.

As if it were a business.

Please, the Cottonwood Recreation Center is not in any sense of the word a business. It was built, in part, with a $19.9 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan from the Greater Arizona Development Authority

There is currently $9.3 million remaining to pay off that debt. In addition to the Rec Center, the original $19.5 million was used to pay the costs associated with expansion of the library, completion of the Riverfront ballfields, the municipal pool remodeling and expansion and the reconstruction of Mickelsen Parkway.

The current goal of 75% cost recovery for the recreation center only covers operational expenses. The debt incurred to build the facility is a taxpayer obligation.

How many “businesses” get a deal like that?

No, the Cottonwood Recreation Center is a government service that walks a fine line as a taxpayer-supported competitor of private business.

And like many other government services, especially those in the parks and recreation arena, operating at a profit is hardly the goal.

If the Cottonwood Recreation Center has been a money pit for the city, that should have been expected. As stated above, Cottonwood is way ahead of the curve by Arizona standards in providing the community with such a facility.

That’s something Cottonwood voters should be proud of. After all, they were the ones who made the decision in 2006 to build the recreation center.

As for it coming close to being a break-even operation, we all need to exercise a little patience.

We’re still growing into the Cottonwood Recreation Center.

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