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As the adage goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.
And in rolling out Elizabethtown Sports Park to the eyes of the public next weekend, Elizabethtown officials said the city cannot afford to shirk on staffing because it would sacrifice quality in doing so.
In its 2012-13 budget, Elizabethtown set aside more than $650,000 to pay salaries and wages for the park, which was budgeted to include eight full-time positions, 10 seasonal maintenance and support staff and as many as 50 part-time concession workers, if needed.
Sports Park Director Seth Breitner said there are nuances to the park and roles that must be filled if it wishes to remain a national-level facility.
Breitner said the park has six full-time concession stands it must adequately staff and roughly two dozen fields requiring careful and considerate maintenance.
Additionally, there are 29 restrooms to clean and common areas where trash must be picked up.
“When you have a large event like that, that takes a large amount just to maintain that professional presence and cleanliness that people will look for,” Breitner said. “One of the first things that people notice is, is the park clean or is it dirty? And if you have a clean facility, that’s going to register and stay with people to host their next event here.”
The park features 12 structures — concession stands, offices, pavilions and small shelters — that will require routine maintenance to electrical, HVAC and plumbing systems, Breitner said. Workers must be available to find and make those improvements, from changing filters to replacing light bulbs, he said.
“It takes a certain number of people to operate a 160-acre facility,” he said.
Examining the park’s first year, city officials said they have attempted to present realistic and conservative numbers for concessions, rentals and sponsorships without a precedent to draw from.
“They’re projections because we really have nothing to base them on,” Mayor Tim Walker said.
The city has budgeted around $3 million in expenses in the park’s first fiscal year but only $2.27 million in revenue. The numbers hardly trouble city officials, though, because a first-year deficit was all but guaranteed.
“We knew we weren’t going to make any money, especially in the first year,” Finance Director Steve Park said.
Walker said the key for the city to overcome cumulative deficits and turn a profit is to secure top-flight sponsorships.
The city has agreed to deals with Pepsi and Lowe’s, but Walker said other national companies are waiting until the park opens to see what events are attracted and what size of crowds gather. They also want to review tangible numbers to gauge how successful the park is, he said.
“They want some hard facts before they sign on the dotted line,” he said.
Walker believes the chasm will start closing next year, coupled with a full season’s worth of larger events beginning in early March. This year’s schedule has been compressed from July to November because of the late opening.
“We feel like we’re going to close that gap each year and get closer,” he said.
Breitner said next year’s slate of sports offerings should help.
“Events we’re looking at in 2013 will bring in a lot more money than the events we have here (in 2012), so that will also help close the gap,” he said.
Walker echoed Breitner’s words, saying the city must have a capable and sizable staff to keep the park running smoothly.
“If you’re going to maintain a park like this and keep it first class, you have to have a first-class staff that’s professional and has experience,” he said.
Breitner said the city booked smaller, more manageable events in the first year to assimilate staff into the park’s flow. Walker said it is prudent to train the staff in this way, letting them slowly adapt to a large setting.
“It’s kinda like the saying ‘crawl before you walk,’” he said.
The park’s staff comes from all walks of life, said Janna Clark, sports and sales director for Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau. With a wide range of ages and life experiences, she said, the park has captured an enthusiastic pool of people.
Clark said success of the park hinges on the type of staff put in place because they will directly interact with those who visit. And visitors’ experiences with staff will shape their perception of the park and the city.
“That’s going to make us even more successful,” she said of the staff’s excitement and eagerness to help. “They are the face of the park. In some ways, they are the face of Elizabethtown.”
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.