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In its initial year, wellness center has bonded community, say Parks, LU officials

In its initial year, wellness center has bonded community, say Parks, LU officials

February 25th, 2018 by Nicole Roberts in Local News

Housing dozens of tournaments, fitness classes and equipment, The Linc wellness center has become a hub for students and Jefferson City community members since opening a year ago.

“It’s exciting to see what The Linc is becoming to the community, to the students, to the young and old, everyone,” said Todd Spalding, Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department director. “It’s exciting to see on a daily basis the different folks coming in and using the facility. It’s neat to see how it’s grown in a year.”

Expressing the need for a community center, the Parks Department and Lincoln University partnered and broke ground on the 80,000-square-foot Lafayette Street project in December 2015.

Since its soft opening Feb. 20, The Linc has seen more than 33,000 visits in its first year, according to attendance records.

Building reps

As of Feb. 21, The Linc brought in about $191,437 in revenue, with the highest revenue month already being February 2018 — $26,246 so far, according to revenue records.

While December saw the most revenue, the highest attendance was in October at 4,080 visits. The second highest attendance was in January at 3,438.

Spalding said high traffic in the winter months is not uncommon at recreation centers.

“We always say, ‘Thank God for New Year’s resolutions,’” Spalding said. “At the first of the year, everyone says they’re going to be active and going to do things. It’s also cold, so there’s more programs inside so these type of facilities get busier. That’s certainly not unique for us — that’s a nationwide trend.”

There also was a spike in revenue as the year grew colder between October and February, which Parks Department Assistant Director Aaron Grefrath attributed to an increase in memberships, tournaments and rentals.

While The Linc saw an uptick in visits during the fall and winter months, the opposite can be said for the summer. Attendance steadily decreased between March and June, with the latter seeing the lowest attendance since The Linc opened — 1,422 visits.

While June had the lowest attendance, The Linc experienced the lowest full month of revenue in August at $6,308.

Spalding said it’s a national trend among recreational centers to see lower attendance during the summer months since people are taking advantage of the warmer weather or going on vacations.

Most students are on summer break, too. The number of visits to The Linc picked up in July and spiked suddenly when the university was back in session in August.

LU students are the wellness center’s top visitors, making up almost 55 percent of total visits in the first year.

“It just proves this facility was much needed for them, and they are utilizing it,” Grefrath said. “That’s the greatest scenario because the last thing you want is to build a building and nobody utilizes it. So it’s great the students are coming in. They are then taking it to the next level (in) that they are attending exercise classes so that they are then becoming friends with people in the community. It builds a great bond between the students and community members.”

LU students pay a $75 wellness fee per semester to use The Linc. University Relations Director Misty Young said the university uses that money to pay a portion of The Linc’s costs.

LU Athletic Director John Moseley said the facility has been a “great resource” to students, giving them a place to focus on health and wellness but also to interact with other community members.

Across the street, Jefferson City High School sits on a hill, towering over The Linc. When the bell rings at the end of the school day, high school and middle school students venture down to the wellness center, playing among themselves and LU students.

High school and middle school students pay either the daily or membership fees to use The Linc.

Spalding said he was slightly surprised by how much the students interact with each other at the building.

“This has become a place — which is what we were hoping for — where there would be nice traffic from the high school and the students — middle school and high school students and also college students together at the same time — playing basketball and volleyball or whatever,” he said. “I think that probably has exceeded what I thought initially.”

Grefrath said the facility became a second home for some students.

Overcoming barriers

While university students make up a large portion of The Linc’s daily visits, Spalding and Grefrath said one of the biggest barriers it still faces is the community’s perception that the wellness center is only for students.

After the initial opening, Grefrath said the number of visits was lower than expected because there was not enough community awareness at the time and many thought it was only for LU students.

“When we first opened, there were a lot of people who were like, ‘What’s The Linc? Where’s it at? Never heard of it,’” he said. “The common thoughts or perception was that it’s just a glorified building with four basketball courts, and really the scope of the building has gone so much deeper than that. We’ve incorporated exercise classes, we’re looking to expand our fitness equipment, we’re looking to add personal trainers.

“So I think, looking at the grand scheme of things, it was thought this was just going to be a facility for basketball and we’ve taken it to the next level and have gotten there, in my opinion, a lot faster than I would have ever anticipated.”

The lower-than-anticipated numbers worried the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission last summer.

In July, the commission discussed the option of a punch card to increase visits and membership revenue — memberships brought in about 29 percent of overall revenue. Commissioners at the time also said they received complaints about visit and membership costs, noting a punch card might encourage community members to use the facility more.

With a punch card option, for a certain number of paid daily visits, visitors would receive an incentive such as a free day or exercise class. With memberships, visitors pay a set monthly or annual membership fee and would have unlimited access to The Linc.

Daily visit costs range from $3-15. Monthly memberships range from $20-$31, while annual memberships range from $240-$372. The ranges reflect different pricing for youths, adults, families, seniors and fitness classes.

Parks and LU officials met after the meeting and decided not to offer the punch card option.

“What I’ve learned in my experience and what I’ve seen history tell us is punch cards aren’t necessarily good for the fitness entity,” Spalding said. “(They) can be beneficial in a lot of different areas, but it’s not necessarily a good thing for a fitness organization doing it and it’s not necessarily a good thing for the person who’s using it because it’s not a commitment. They’re just using it whenever.

“So what we’ve seen is a steady, healthy growth; and we want to see where that takes us first.”

Planning ahead

Retention is key to continue The Linc’s growth, especially now that the wellness center made it through its first year. Parks and LU officials said the best way to retain is offering different amenities — new classes, variety of equipment, and unique wellness options like The Linc classes at local parks.

“I think we need to just continue to develop programs and things that change with what your customers want,” Moseley said. “It’s more opportunities for us to add intramural programs and build.”

In the coming year, Parks and LU staff plan to offer new classes, such as indoor cycling next month. They will market more summer camps and group personalized training more.

The Linc started offering personalized group training about four months ago, but it hasn’t been well publicized due to the trainer’s full schedule, Grefrath said.

There also will be more tournaments next year. Last year, The Linc hosted about 20 tournaments, Grefrath said. This second year, staff plans to surpass that.

While staff offers different resources to members and visitors, there is a fine balance.

“It’s great we’re bringing in tournaments, but we also take into account we are meeting the needs of the students and community members and not shutting down the facility every weekend,” Grefrath said. “As a member or a student who is a member here, having access to utilize the facility is important because if they didn’t have utilization of the courts or fitness center or the track, there’s no need to belong — and our goal is to belong here and experience it.”

Finding that balance can lead to some bumps in the road, though. This first year involved overcoming some issues, especially with scheduling — working tournaments and camps around daily visitors.

While those challenges were not fun, Grefrath said, they will always be there due to the size and impact of the facility on the community. He said evaluating those challenges and addressing them is key.

“The past year has been very beneficial for the community, but it’s also been a great learning experience to bring two entities together as one and accomplish this goal for the community,” he said.

Earlier this month, Lincoln University’s Board of Curators approved changes to the memorandum of understanding regarding operations at The Linc. The Parks Commission tabled discussing the changes at its February meeting so commissioners could have more time to look over the MOU.

Amendments included limiting certain activities at The Linc, naming and sponsorship rights, and cost sharing for fitness equipment.

Spalding said he is always looking at ways to expand The Linc’s resources, whether by offering more assets or expanding the physical building itself, especially if the wellness center continues to see growth in visits, need and space.

“My only goal is we continue to meet the needs of what the community wants,” he said. “It’s simple, it’s general, but that’s important. We’re just going to continue to listen to what the community says. Every day when a member comes in here, we want to be able to meet their needs.

“So what I see is nice, steady, healthy growth, more use — that’s what I see in five years.”