Columbia’s Activity & Recreation Center has been open for a year now, and those running it couldn’t be happier.
“I think the ARC has lived up to — if not exceeded — most of the expectations the community had for it,” said Gary Ristow, recreation services manager for Columbia Parks and Recreation.
Nearly 60,000 day passes to the center, 1701 W. Ash St., were sold in its first year, according to the parks department.
The 73,000-square-foot facility attracts more than 700 people per day, and as of Sept. 30, 2003, more than 4,400 memberships had been sold. Erika Coffman, ARC director, said the total membership of 8,573 people was higher than expected the first year.
“Every so often I get people who say to me, ‘You know, I didn’t vote for it when it was on the ballot, but I decided to become a member, and I really like what the facility has to offer,’” Coffman said. “I think the message from most people is that it’s a great place to come.”
Funding to build the $10.5 million facility, which opened Dec. 16, 2002, came from a voter-approved extension of a quarter-cent sales tax in 1999. Private donors contributed another $600,000.
City officials said the center’s first year was a profitable one. ARC brought in $1,166,548 in total revenue during fiscal year 2003, while operating expenses for the same period were $1,085,483.
The fairness of ARC’s fee structure was, initially, a subject of concern for some community members, but financial assistance from the parks department’s Youth Enrichment Services helped fund memberships for 449 people. Daily passes to the center cost $5; annual adult memberships are $310.
Jim Stallman, 62, has been a member of ARC since it opened. A retired MU professor, Stallman said he voted in favor of the sales tax extension.
“I like the hustle and bustle,” said Stallman, who uses cardiovascular machines and the track at ARC. “I like to see people working out and being healthy.”
The ARC will offer more exercise classes in the coming year and will rent space at the facility to community groups during off hours.
“Now that we have a year under our belt, we look forward to being a tad more receptive to different types of activities,” Ristow said. “We have a better idea of the user pattern, so we’ll plan accordingly.”
On Friday afternoon, ARC was bustling. Flocks of children were floating and splashing around in the 13,000-square-foot pool and water-play area. Every basketball court in the gymnasium was in use, and the cardiovascular machines were nearly full.
Candace Harris, 16, often comes in to use the pool and work out. Her family has had a membership since ARC opened.
“I’m thankful we have this place — a lot of people are,” Harris said. “Kids need a place to hang out, and they can come here. It keeps them off the streets and out of trouble.”