CCMV celebrates first year

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter This photo shows the construction of the main level staircase of the $12.4 million Community Center at Mercer View. The facility was dedicated Dec. 6, 2005, and has hosted such guests as Gov. Christine Gregoire and dignitaries from the Island’s sister city, Thonon les Bains, France. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter This photo shows the construction of the main level staircase of the $12.4 million Community Center at Mercer View. The facility was dedicated Dec. 6, 2005, and has hosted such guests as Gov. Christine Gregoire and dignitaries from the Island’s sister city, Thonon les Bains, France.
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Downstairs, a young couple breaks a sweat using the weight machines in the fitness room. The music in their headphones provides a rhythm to their workout as they watch the news on the two televisions hanging from the ceiling. Across the hall, teenagers lob basketballs in the gym while they loosen up before a pick-up game.

Upstairs, almost 100 folks attend a formal dinner in a darkened room complete with black tablecloths, red flowers and delicate sounds coming from the speakers. In the lobby, the party-goers are greeted while the others share laughs, sipping champagne.

This is what the designers and city planners had hoped for when the $12.4 million Community Center at Mercer View opened its doors a year ago. According to the center’s manager, Charlie Bryant, the facility is fulfilling the promise that it would get maximum use without overcrowding. And many of the users agree.

“I see every age group using it,” Suzanne Carsen, an Island resident using the Internet on one of the computers, said. “It’s definitely well-used, but I wouldn’t say its overcrowded.”

Carsen said she lives about a mile away and uses the community center often to surf the Internet or read. She sometimes takes an art class or works out in the fitness room.

Jamie Osborne takes advantage of the exercise bikes in the fitness room about twice a week, paying the $3 drop-in fee each time. He prefers to ride his real bike outside, but it is nice to have the exercise bike in the winter. He also said his entire family uses the facility, crediting his daughter with getting them through the door to play basketball in the new gymnasium.

“I think its a diamond in the rough,” Osborne said of the building. “It’s got great equipment. It’s a great facility. Sometimes the basketball courts are taken over, but every time I’ve asked the front desk, they’ve gone down and broken the game up so my daughter and I could have some space too.”

Another fitness room user, Jill Davis, said she uses the facility four to five times a week and she pays the $25 monthly fee. She said that it is sometimes crowded and on those days she leaves. Like Osborne, she said she is happy with the center. Her only criticism is her desire for some more equipment.

Nearly 35,000 people have gone through the doors to enjoy the abundant features such as the weights, exercise bikes, and treadmills in the fitness room. Or the two free pool tables, the television or video game system in the game room. There’s also Internet access on two computers, free Wi-Fi and a fireplace with a wall full of books and magazines to browse in the lounge.

Parents also take advantage of the child care services every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while they fit in a workout. Athletes shoot hoops or play volleyball, pickleball or badminton in the gym. And businesses frequently rent rooms for conferences or meetings during the week.

And its more than the novelty of being new that attracts these users. City staff predict the center will have 38,000 people come through the doors each year in 2007 and 2008 and Bryant predicts that number will rise as more residents join the recreational activities and more guests attend corporate events.

The Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce’s business lunches take place in the 3,000 square-foot Mercer Room on the first Thursday of every month. The lunches attract a variety of local business people depending on the topic and special guest. Several have brought large crowds, but if it’s a small turnout, the Mercer Room can be split into three smaller rooms.

“It’s really nice that we can close off parts of the room if we need to so it doesn’t look like 15 people need that entire room,” Terry Moreman, the Chamber director, said.

Moreman and Bryant both agree that the benefits of the arrangement are reciprocal. For the center, Bryant said the lunches are an excellent marketing tool that alerts businesses of its rental availability. For the Chamber, the availability of the Mercer Room enables it to host large crowds when it brings in high profile guests such as Governor Christine Gregoire.

“At first there was confusion and it seemed a little pricey,” Moreman said, “but with the contract we were able to come back to the community center like we always wanted to. And now whenever somebody calls us to find out about places to reserve for a wedding reception or something like that the community center is the first place we refer them to.”

Rental fees from the Chamber, private parties or corporations have brought $114,000 to the center up until the end of October. The Mercer Room that is the most popular room reserved and is a large reason why the current goal for the center is to generate $229,000 this year from rental fees. City staff predict the center will raise over $313,000 each year in 2007 and 2008.

For room and facility rentals the community center staff will set up and take down its 52 tables and 108 chairs prior to the event. Staff can also provide coffee for up to 30 people and charges $5 per pot. Beer, wine and champagne can be served for an additional $100 alcohol fee. For the entire Mercer Room rates range from $60 per hour for community service groups to $115 per hour for corporations. Use of the kitchen costs an extra $50 to $100. Island residents can rent rooms by the hour for a price slightly higher than the community service rates.

Bryant said the rental rooms have been booked steadily this year, most often used for community service organizations, corporate meetings and private celebrations. Weddings and bar mitzvahs are common, as well as formal dinners, award ceremonies, banquets, receptions, conferences and Jazzercise.

“I think our most popular recreation program right now is Jazzercise,” Bryant said. “It has just gotten bigger, bigger and bigger. It started out in the dance room and now it’s on a big stage in the Mercer Room, which is a great marketing tool because everybody coming in and leaving the center can see them. That has attracted a lot of people to come and try it.”

The availability of the 10,000 square foot gymnasium has also attracted a lot of people. It can be used for a variety of sports and events. For athletes it can be set up as a full sized basketball court, two half-courts, three volleyball and six pickleball or badminton courts.

The gym can also be reserved for large exhibitions or trade shows. However, the gym is the only part of the facility without the new state-of-the-art climate control system. Lacking heat, it relies on pure physical effort to heat it this time of year.

So far this winter, several high schoolers have taken advantage of the free open gym.

“The kids know that if the gym isn’t being rented or scheduled for program use they can come in and use it,” Bryant said. “They call all the time and ask if it’s open and I tell them to come on down if it’s available.”

When schools were closed because of the snow and ice last week several youth came to the community center to shoot pool, use the fitness room and play basketball.

“We wouldn’t be doing anything,” said MIHS senior Matt Wright, “except maybe playing video games. But we wouldn’t be playing ball, we’d be doing something that isn’t active. This is way better than playing outdoors, where it’s obviously too icy.”

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