Photo: Steve Thurston
So much of budget season consists of community interest groups standing up and asking for more county money. But Heather Cocozza, a member on the board of directors of Arlington Tigers Parent Association, has a different type of plan for this year’s budget season: how about the county make an investment that could generate revenue in the long run?
Cocozza sees opportunity for the county to make money simply by responding to the immense demand for gymnastics classes. As a representative of the Arlington Tigers, the county’s competitive boys gymnastics team, she has been tracking the ratio between enrolled students and those stuck on the waitlist.
For every 10 registered students, nine are waitlisted. Run by the Department of Parks and Recreation, the gymnastics program simply cannot meet the high demand of its residents. County numbers seem to bear this out. According to staff, the county has increased capacity 33 percent in five years with plans for more.
“We see this as an opportunity. Already gymnastics is the largest revenue-generating sport in Arlington. So while it is already generating a lot of revenue, there is so much more potential,” Cocozza said in an interview. According to her data, the county could have made $342,100 last year if the program could meet demand. She suggested that such a large waitlist discourages even more residents from signing up, put off by the long wait times.
Nevertheless, the plan still has not convinced the county board. Although $300,000 annually is a lot of money, is it enough to cover costs? Board member Jay Fisette at a county board budget work session with staff raised this question. There was no clear answer at the table. It would depend on exactly what needed to be built, staff said.
Fisette did not want to commit to invest in the program without knowing the amount of overhead costs needed to meet such demand. And the overhead can vary widely, depending on whether an appropriate space is built into a full-fledged gymnastics facility or just a small gym for younger tumblers.
“This seems to be a tremendous business opportunity. Why doesn’t somebody out there make a private gymnastics facility?” said Fisette during his comments.
The biggest challenge for gymnastics is finding the right space. The gymnastics facilities are full.
In an interview with the Mercury, Cocozza suggested using space that is not used to its full capacity or repurposing a different facility, such as a basketball gym. Once the program has a space, the county would also need to purchase gym equipment and hire more staff. She believed that the county would recoup the cost of this investment within a year. At the recent budget meeting, county staff were not so sure.