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Frances Meadows center helps stabilize parks budget
50,000 to 100,000 people visit the center each year
Ty Powers, 14, dives into a pool Monday at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Since opening in 2009, Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville has been increasingly able to hold its own, even in a down economy.

The center currently makes about 70 percent of its nearly $1 million dollar budget through user fees.

"It's been able to help stabilize our budget in terms of fees and charges," said Michael Graham, deputy director of Gainesville Parks and Recreation.

Parks and Recreation has only two revenue sources: 65 percent generated through property taxes, and the other 35 percent from fees.

Graham said with a decline in property taxes and facility rentals, the revenue the center has generated has been very beneficial.

But Graham said the department is still looking for ways to make more money.

He explained Parks and Recreation is more than $1 million down in revenue when comparing the 2009 fiscal year with what it has planned for 2013.

"We're going to have to look at raising our fees; even in doing that, we're not going to raise them too much so people can't afford to get into our programs," Graham said.

One of the ways Graham said the department hopes to raise more money is by charging a third more for out-of-county and out-of-city users.

He said since property taxes make up so much of the budget and those who live outside of the city don't have to pay city taxes, the additional charges are fair.

For example, a resident would pay $45 for a membership while a county resident would pay $65.

Another option, Graham said, is to look for sponsorships.

Graham said businesses would be allowed to advertise at the facility on a banner flag, much like the flags lining fences on baseball fields. Between 50,000 and 100,000 people visit center each year.

Most of the facility's revenue is earned in a relatively short period of time.

"The bulk of revenue is made in the three months of the year when Splash Zone is open in the summer months," Graham said.

The aquatic center's Splash Zone is frequented by parents and children and has two huge slides and kiddie pools. The facility also houses a 10-lane indoor pool and offers fitness classes both in and out of the water.

Cristie Garrett of Gainesville and her husband have been regulars at the center since it opened.

"It's a hidden jewel for Gainesville and Hall County," Garrett said.

While she occasionally uses the facility's pools, she enjoys the facility for the land-based classes.

"It's been a real godsend for us as retired people. We need to stay in shape," Garrett said, laughing.