[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]
Instructor Lynn Darst holds a strand of yarn for a young woman in her crocheting class. The two laugh as they tie slip knots with five other women in the classroom at the Activity and Recreation Center, where dozens of life-enrichment classes contribute to the center’s popularity.
Crochet student Tammy Hohlt said she was surprised the class was held at the ARC.
“I didn’t know they had these kinds of things here,” Hohlt said.
The ARC, in fact, is much more than a gym, or a swimming pool, or a basketball court. It’s the variety of activities it offers that gives it such broad appeal and is the secret to its overwhelming success, Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood said.
Attendance at the ARC is through the roof, already 50 percent higher than consultants projected when the $10.5 million facility was built in 2003. And the numbers keep rising. ARC records show that 204,725 people visited the center in the first half of fiscal 2005, a 15 percent jump from the same period last year and a 36 percent jump from two years ago.
Now in its third year of operation, the ARC will bring in an estimated $40,000 more than it spends, Director Erika Coffman said.
“Any additional money that we generate goes back into the general recreation services fund that supports other programs within the Parks and Recreation Department,” she said.
In fiscal 2004, the ARC brought in a total of $1.4 million, including $1.2 million from membership fees, $133,758 from program fees, $61,749 from sales and $31,652 from room rentals. Coffman said she anticipates no changes in user fees at the center.
Hood said the ARC is accomplishing its goal: to give people different options depending on their personal needs.
Stan Green spends most of his time at the ARC using weights and cardio machines. Green became a member when he moved to Columbia in January. He’s a certified personal trainer and exercises at the ARC about six days a week.
“I’ve seen fitness centers all over the world, and I don’t think a city’s ever had machines this nice,” Green said.
“A lot of people are concerned about health and fitness, and it’s not just people in Columbia, it’s a national trend,” Hood said.
But the ARC serves more than just the health-conscious. It houses some of the more than 150 life-enrichment classes offered by the Parks and Recreation Department. Karen Ramey started the program 15 years ago and said it gives people a chance to learn everything from speed reading to rubber stamping to fencing.
“The ARC is a nice big space,” Ramey said. “We’ve gradually been able to move classes there and add more classes.”
The ARC receives 10 percent of the registration fees for classes held there. Coffman said the classes bring in less money than room rentals to private citizens, but they often attract people who wouldn’t otherwise come to the ARC.
“It’s a win-win both ways because we’re able to share resources and supplies,” Coffman said. “Someone on the outside is not as apt to talk about other programs that we offer.”
Liz Bolin, 65, of Hallsville plans to swim at the ARC each week before her crochet class. Because of her age, Bolin will pay the discount rate of $3 for a daily pass.
“I don’t have to have a big long membership, so that’s nice,” she said.
Travis Merling of Columbia said cheap rates persuaded him to make the switch from Gold’s Gym to the ARC. Still, Merling said it took him awhile to adjust to the older crowd at the ARC.
“Initially it was hard to find lifting partners. My brother used to be my partner, but he works out at Mizzou now. Eventually I found some guys, though,” he said.
Merling said he has noticed the ARC getting more crowded in the past few months. Sometimes he has to wait for a machine. And with participation rates on the rise, Hood expects the ARC will reach capacity, probably in the next few years.
“What we don’t want is for attendance to start dropping,” Hood said.
As a steady stream of people swipe their membership cards, whether dressed for working out or just hanging out, it seems that scenario is unlikely.
“We feel we’re in a good position,” Hood said.