Community center still needs subsidy

The new community center facility in 2006. Revenues from the five-year-old building are growing, but a city subsidy is still required.  - Reporter file photo
The new community center facility in 2006. Revenues from the five-year-old building are growing, but a city subsidy is still required.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

The Mercer Island Community and Event Center, formerly known as the Community Center at Mercer View, has done well over the past five years. But is yet to become profitable. According to the annual report presented to the City Council on Monday evening, the facility still received a “subsidy” from the city.

At the study session at the City Council meeting on Monday, city staff showed that the center — in its fifth year of operation — is making money, yet not enough to pay for itself.

The facility, however, has made strides toward profitability while serving more people over more hours and meeting other service goals.

The 2010 revenue of nearly $500,000 represents an increase of just 2.5 percent over 2009, but  is closing on nearly doubling the earnings made in the first year of the facility operation in 2006.

The 2010 earnings cut the amount of subsidy that the city expected to pay from $349,000 to $273,000 in 2009; a savings of $78,000 to the city or more than 20 percent. The reduced subsidy for 2010, however, is still higher than that paid out in 2009 of $245,000.

According to the report presented to the Council, the facility has expanded it hours, cut costs and provided programs and services to thousands of Islanders and visitors. The facility hosted some 7,100 participants in its programs, more than a quarter of whom were seniors.

The open gym time was increased to 638 hours annually — the facility hosted a total of 19,025 program hours for the year.

Other highlights include a public art gallery that sold more than $5,000 worth of art for the year.

Room rentals for 2010 were the biggest money maker for the facility, representing nearly 80 of the revenue. Over 3,500 private meetings or gatherings were held at the CCMV this past year.

The community center has become a place for communitywide celebrations. Numerous community events include the Rotary Run Half Marathon, the city’s annual Leap for Green event, the 100th anniversary celebration of the Alaska-Yukon Exhibition, and other events such as wedding receptions, Rotary meetings and more.

The report by city staff also highlighted the environmental stewardship of the buildings and grounds that included efficient lighting, irrigation systems and recycling efforts. The terrace was repaired and other changes made. City staff held emergency drill procedures.

City Councilman El Jahncke said that when the community center was being proposed and built, the focus was on the capital cost, not the operating parameters.

The initial capital cost estimate of the facilities in the late 1990s was $19.1 million. Island residents turned down the bond issue for the facility. The council went back to the drawing board and brought the design and cost down by more than $7 million to $12.4 million.

“We did not build the community center to be profitable,” Jahncke said. “But it could be. We could reduce (the subsidy) if we charged a market rate to Islanders for using the facility.”

Part of the cost of operations is meeting what Islanders want in a community center, he continued.

“The center is open extended hours, for example. We made a conscious decision to make it accessible.”

Perhaps the most important and somewhat surprising finding in the 2010 report was that the center and its staff have become what the report terms “an information clearinghouse,” for residents. The facility staff managed over 100,000 landline telephone calls in 2010, an increase of more than 40 percent over the previous year.

The 42,744-square-foot facility was opened in December of 2005 on the site of the old community center, the former Mercer View Elementary School. The school, which was constructed in 1960, closed in 1980.

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