Columbia about to charge more to have fun in city parks

cleblanc@thestate.comJune 17, 2013 

  • Columbia parks fee hikes Starting July 1, the thousands of people and organizations that use city parks will be paying more to swim, golf, play tennis or soccer and to rent park facilities for their events or civic meetings. Despite the increases, Columbia’s parks still cost far more to operate than the revenue they generate. Here are some samples of hikes in the 58 parks and green spaces in the city’s parks system. Camp fees

    Summer camps: $55 weekly, compared with $45 last year

    Cultural arts camps: $85 weekly, compared with $65 last year

    Classes

    Adult (generally six weeks): $85, compared with $35 plus supplies last year

    Youth (generally six weeks): $85, compared with $20 plus supplies last year

    Swimming

    Adult daily: $4, compared with $3 last year

    Youth daily: $3, compared with $2 last year

    Season passes: $140 for adults/$100 for children, compared with $120 and $80 last year, respectively.

    Park rentals

    Primary parks such as Maxcy Gregg, Martin Luther King, Boyd Plaza, Earlewood and Owens Field when admission is charged: $700 for six hours, up from $675. But renters now will pay for the cost of city workers to set up and clean up for the event.

    Eleven parks whose outdoor spaces can now be rented for admission-fee events no longer will be available for paid functions. Those parks are: Drew, Earlewood, Greenview, Hampton, Lorick, Pacific, Pinehurst, Rosewood, St. Anna’s, Valencia and Woodlands.

    SOURCE: Columbia’s parks ordinance

People who use Columbia’s city parks would be paying more to rest or recreate starting this summer.

On Tuesday, City Council is set to give final approval to rate increases that take effect July 1 and will affect everything from team sports to organizations that rent city facilities.

Parks officials say the overall increase is “modest,” but they have not conducted a detailed calculation because the hikes hit disproportionally in different parks and for different uses.

Despite the increases, Columbia will continue to generate far less money for recreation than it spends to provide the service, said David Brandes, a city consultant hired to help Columbia draft a 10-year master recreation plan.

“In some communities, they look at recreation as a revenue generator that ... gets closer to 50 percent (of operating cost),” Brandes said. “In Columbia, we’ve always looked at it as an entitlement ... something you get from your (property) taxes.”

Columbia is “nowhere near” the 50 percent threshold, he said.

Under the new fee structure, anyone who rents a city park will soon be paying higher rental fees and also will be required to pay for city workers who set up or clean up. The set-up and clean-up fees range from $20 to $30 per hour.

Another fallout of the proposal is that groups that rent outdoor space for events that require paid admission at 11 parks will no longer be able to do so, according to the version of the law council has given the first of two required votes.

The new law also will allow the city manager or her designee to waive all fees in some circumstances. Groups that are directly affiliated with city government, such as the Columbia Council of Neighborhoods or the city’s development corporations, could seek exemptions. Further, events that expressly benefit the “mission of the city” or are in the “public good” might not have to pay the fees.

Summer and sports camp fees, for example, are rising about $20 per week on average. Fees for six-week classes for adults and children are jumping to twice and even tripling in some cases. But enrollees no longer will have to pay for supplies. But the fee for outdoor and environmental camps is dropping by $25 per week to $125.

Fees at one of the city’s newest facilities, Drew Wellness Center, will stay as they have been since October 2009 when they rose 10 percent, said assistant city manager Allison Baker, whose duties include overseeing the parks system.

The new rules also will draw distinctions between the size of fees paid by for-profit and non-profit events. Non-profit groups generally will pay smaller fees.

The highest fees will apply to Finlay Park along Assembly Street and Coble Plaza, which is behind the EdVenture children’s museum off Gervais Street.

For-profit groups at those facilities would be charged $1,000 for a six-hour block, up from $900. But set-up and clean-up costs will be added and the deposit will rise to $350 from $300.

Non-profit groups that do not charge admission fees at those parks would pay $75 per hour in addition. The set-up and clean-up fees are the same for non profits for pay-to-attend functions.

For a detailed fee structure, contact the city parks and recreation department at (803) 545-3100.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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