The payback of our municipally owned ski-hill
Tuesday crank: Hickory Hills
Listening to the City Commission last night discuss Hickory Hills operation as if all it is a drain on the City budget was frustrating. Of course, there was the sentimental call to maintain the hill, someway, somehow, but focusing on the idea that the City must do so solely by making up $70,000+/- it spends on the Hill’s operation per year is short-sighted.
Left out of the discussion is any recognition of the economic impact the recreational program has on the City. It’s as if this service, and this service alone, needs to somehow break even or make a profit. Yet, no other city service does; directly, at least. Indirectly, all of them contribute to the economic well-being of our community including the municipal owned and operated ski hill.
Using gross generalizations and an economic impact equation from famed parks and recreation expert John Crompton, we can get a rough guesstimation of the economic reasons the City Commission’s approach has been anything but business like–the truth of the matter is, they have spent little effort evaluating the economic impact of Hickory Hills.
Here’s the equation:
(Number of visitors) X (Avg. spending per visitor) X (multiplier) = ROI
The first two numbers we have throughout the history of the hill. The multiplier represents the ripple effect of monetary exchanges (and, in advanced studies, saved) through the community and for our low-budget purposes is best used in a range. I’d say the multiplier is safely be between 3 and 10. This represents the fact that people who ski at Hickory Hills also purchase things directly related to the activity, go out to dinner as part of the activity, pay coaches and trainers, and pay higher real estate prices to live in a community with such a unique opportunity. In addition, this equation could also include the hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars donated to the hill through the Grand Traverse Ski Club and other sources.
Using numbers from 2009, and erring on the conservative side because this math is taking place on only one cup of coffee, this equates to a return on investment in the community of between a quarter and 3 quarters of a million dollars. That is real money, circulating in the community, and a chunk of it coming back to the Government Center on Boardman Ave., someway, somehow. I also think this is far too low and that the real number is much higher.
Recently the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce and Traverse Bay Area Youth Soccer released a regional economic impact study of two soccer tournaments (PDF) held in the region. The direct spending that occurs from these tournaments in the region over two weekends totals $3.4 million dollars. For comparison, the total annual budget for parks and recreation in the entire region (including all townships, villages, the City, and Grand Traverse County) is $3.7 million. A small portion of that $3.7m investment is in soccer fields that generate almost an equal amount of economic activity in just two weekends.
The City Commission needs to change the discussion of Hickory Hills from how much it is costing us, to what are the gains we can achieve by operating a valued recreational opportunity. Or, what we will lose if the political will isn’t there to keep it open.
The money in recent years spent on a tubing run concept would have been better spent working with the Chamber on running some numbers on the true impact of the place. In the end, it still might not be worth $70,000, but is it worth $50,000? $40,000? We don’t know until someone seriously looks at the numbers.
The ‘solution’ may still include a third-party taking over the operations, but we should do so realizing that it is still a valuable, both socially and economically, asset to the community.
NOTE: As of yesterday I served as chairperson of the City’s Parks and Recreation Commission. Last night, the City Commission appointed me to Planning Commission where, albeit in a different role, I still plan on being an advocate for sensible investment in our public spaces.
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