SPET by SPET: Between a rock (wall) and an exercise space

JACKSON, Wyo. — It’s getting a lot of attention, but a climbing wall at the Jackson/Teton County Recreation Center is only one of the new amenities Jackson/Teton County Parks and Recreation hopes to build.

A $22 million ask on this year’s SPET ballot would build an indoor climbing gym, indoor track, an additional gymnasium, outdoor aquatics “splash pad,” and several other “recreational amenities,” according to SPET ballot language.

Many of these facilities — the climbing gym, the indoor track, splash pad, etc. — don’t currently exist in Jackson. But some of them do. We have fitness facilities. Why do we need more?

According to a 2016 Teton County Community Needs Assessment, fitness is in high demand in Jackson. About 35-40% of the community considers it a “high need,” says Parks & Rec Director Steve Ashworth. But the facilities we currently have only serve about 12-15% of the population. That leaves 30% of a population “who have a high need, but are not being served,” Ashworth says.

There are plenty of reasons for that. Cost is a big one — private fitness facilities are expensive.

Culture is another. Jackson’s fitness-focused ethos might not be as welcoming to someone who’s new to the game. Public facilities are often perceived as more welcoming and comfortable to populations want to incorporate fitness into their lives, but don’t know where to start.

Parks & Rec Director Steve Ashworth at Teton County Library’s SPET Forum. Photo: Buckrail // Sarah Averill

“Picture somebody who goes to the doctor and the doctor says, ‘you really need to get more exercise,'” Ashworth posits. “I’m not going to go to a place that I’m intimidated by.”

According to Parks and Rec, there are about 40 years of data that suggest public fitness facilities are actually good for the private sector. Studies have shown that within five years of Rec Center providing health and fitness facilities, private sector revenues increase by 20%.

“We are the feeder,” Ashworth says. “Nothing measures our success better than someone graduating and moving on from our facility.”

So what about the things that don’t exist? The climbing gym, the indoor track, the splash pad — why are they a public concern?

They’re just too expensive for the private sector, Ashworth says. Jackson has seen two climbing gyms come and go because the cost was too high. It’s why there are so few private pools, Ashworth says. No one wants to pay or them.

“But oftentimes, they’re still a good community service. That’s where the government comes in.”

Ashworth has fielded plenty of questions from climbers asking if the facility is “good enough.” He’s confident it is. Parks and Rec is working with a professional climbing gym manufacturer — the same one that helped build the boulder park at Phil Baux. “It will be a full-service climbing gym like you’d see in another community. It should meet the needs of every skill level, from beginner to advanced.”

The other stuff? 

The ballot language on Proposition 9 includes some surrounding infrastructure construction, too: King Street extension, stormwater management systems, site parking. The simple answer, Ashworth says, is that it makes more sense to do it all at once. The stormwater treatment system is part of the Cache Tube, which is already on the ballot for $2 million. But part of it will run under the Parks & Rec parking lot, so it “made sense to include it in our project for efficiency,” Ashworth says.

Of the $22 million, about $2.5 million will be spent on surrounding infrastructure. The rest will be devoted to expanding and renovating the Rec Center.

“It’s all related to the success of this,” Ashworth says. “If I’m going to redo my parking lot, I want to make sure all the roads are in place. I don’t want to do it twice.”

Why SPET? 

The million-dollar — or 22 million-dollar — question. Why is this project appropriate for SPET?

This type of project is exactly what SPET is for, Ashworth says: larger capital improvements in communities.

The Rec Center is also “heavily impacted by our visitors.” It makes sense, then, that they should help pay for its improvements.

Visitors make up about 45% of Rec Center users. They pay for about 60% of the tax. “This tax really puts the responsibility on visitors to pay for that opportunity,” Ashworth says.

Ashworth also claims the new amenities will lower the Rec Center’s overall tax burden in the long run. They will require more staff, he says, but will also capture more revenue. “The fees and rental rates to use these facilities not only pay for themselves, but actually help lower the subsidy we’re currently paying on the aquatics facility.” And that’s according to two independent consultant groups, he promises.

 

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