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Community days could bulk up Allegheny County park income

| Wednesday, May 19, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

Allegheny County Council hopes a marketing tactic can drum up business for the cash-strapped county parks.

It would work like Kennywood picnics, allowing towns, community groups, even unions or large companies to pick one day for residents and workers to get cut-rate admissions to pools, ski slopes and skating rinks.

"It's actually promoting in a really neat way our already existing group rates," said county Parks Director Andy Baechle. "You never know (how successful it will be) when you market. But when we open our swimming pools, if there's five people or 500, it costs us the same. ... We think people getting together, putting it on the calendar, they'll be more likely to go to the pool that day."

There would be no cost to groups sponsoring events, said the bill's primary sponsor, Councilman Nicholas W. Futules. Council will take a final vote on the bill tonight.

Park visitors would get the standard group discount. At skating rinks, that means 25 percent; at pools, it varies from 75 cents to $2; at ski slopes, it varies from $2.50 to $4. Boyce, North, Settler's Cabin and South parks have facilities where discounts would apply.

The parks have about $60 million to $80 million of deferred maintenance work, some of it 30 years overdue. County leaders increased several park fees in 2009, which brought in an extra $500,000. Last year, 1.6 million people paid admissions to county parks, officials said.

The county's marketing effort could bring in $1 million or $5 million a year from new customers, though it probably will start slowly, Futules said.

Several suburban town officials voiced skepticism about the idea. Many have parks, pools and community festivals -- and signing up for a community day at a county park could create unwanted competition, officials in Monroeville, Penn Hills and Pine said.

"I know that with our own community pool, we would do whatever's necessary to support that as opposed to a different venue," Monroeville Manager Marshall Bond said. "I think it might be a good idea, but it would probably appeal to us from a standpoint of (skiing and skating) activities we don't have."

Towns such as Plum that don't have pools likely will participate eagerly, Plum Manager Michael Thomas said.

"I don't see the downside to this," he said. "If you offer people a discount on something, they're probably going to use it more. That seems intuitive to me."

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