Survey reveals interest in community recreation center

Thursday, November 13, 2003

A new public community recreation and fitness center in Jackson took a big initial step toward reality Tuesday.

An Atlanta-based consulting firm representative outlined the results of a market survey, which said the Jackson region would likely support a membership-driven community center.

City and school officials have discussed the idea of combining efforts for a community center for years. In the past year, talk has turned into some action. In addition to hiring the Winfield Consulting Group to conduct a survey, school and city officials have met with YMCA representatives and have visited YMCA facilities in Missouri and nearby states.

Both the city and the school are considering a joint community center as the school district makes plans to eventually expand its high school campus.

Li Li, who gave the presentation Tuesday, is a senior vice president with the Winfield Consulting Group, a firm that specializes in public projects like community centers, libraries and museums.

"It's not a home run, but it's definitely not a strike out," she said of the Jackson-area survey. "I'd call it more like a double or triple."

Those who took the telephone survey were told the community center would be membership driven and were quoted various membership costs per month, based on what members pay to use a facility in Farmington, Mo.

She said 6.1 percent of the 501 households surveyed said they would have a "great deal of interest" in such a community center, compared to the national average of 4.5 percent. An additional 11.6 percent said they had "a lot of interest."

That equates to about 1,500 to 2,000 households in the region. The surveys reached people in Jackson, Bollinger County and all over Cape Girardeau County, including the city of Cape Girardeau.

"It's a step in the process of finding out how feasible it is, how affordable it is and how much people want it," Jackson Mayor Paul Sander said. "There are still some financial questions, but clearly we know there is a good deal of interest in this type of facility."

The study indicated that there would be enough memberships to support the operating costs of the facility. However, Li said, the city and school would have to come up with a way of funding the construction. The survey showed that only 19 percent of the people surveyed would favor a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for the construction. Eleven percent said maybe.

She said the center would need to be run and managed by a reliable operator like a YMCA.

Sander said much of the cost of the building could be paid for through private and corporate donations. YMCA directors are often charged with fund-raising responsibilities.

"From the information we got today, it appeared this facility in Jackson would have a good chance of being self-sustaining in day-to-day operations," he said.

The survey also asked certain questions dealing with location. Three locations were provided: the high school campus, the city park and somewhere along Interstate 55. The interstate location was by far the least favorable. Either the park or the school would work, Li said, and both places have pluses and minuses.

The study cost $24,000 plus expenses. The city and school district split the cost.

The few 82-page documents that were distributed to officials Tuesday were collected at the end of the meeting by Li, who said they are intended for those making the decisions and not for the public.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

WHAT'S NEXT

Next month, city and school officials plan to meet with a YMCA official and share the information.

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