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Park rides attendance wave
Drought plays role in rise of Point Mallard's aquatic center crowds

By Catherine Godbey 340-2441

Like an oasis in the middle of the Sahara, the J. Gilmer Blackburn Aquatic Center at Point Mallard Park has offered escape from the unrelenting heat beating down on North Alabama.

And it is seeing the profits.

During June, the drought's harshest month, park attendance increased by 11,000 compared to June 2006. Attendance returned to a level equivalent to last year during July, when Decatur experienced 12 days of rain.

"When July started, we started a lot of morning rains, and the thing that will kill you at a water park is either clouds or rain in the morning," said Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Dunlap.

But even with fewer operational days because of a later Memorial Day and an earlier start of school, the park experienced an increase in attendance.

"This has been a really great year. We have seen the attendance increase by 10 percent," said Julianne Lowman, marketing coordinator for Decatur Parks and Recreation. "The income and revenue are also looking up."

Special events helped

The weather, combined with the water attractions, special events and new marketing initiatives, resulted in an increase in patrons.

To keep the attendance steady through the end of the season, the aquatic center hosted special events during August. The modeling and tumbling competitions attracted North Alabama residents, as well as visitors from Arab and Birmingham.

"We specifically put these events in August," Lowman said, "because that is when attendance usually starts to go downhill with the end of summer and school starting back."

According to Lowman, the events are intended to enhance the park and entertain but not overwhelm the customers.

High attendance represents a good indicator of increased revenue, but without the official calculations Lowman can only speculate how the attendance impacted revenue.

The aquatic center's money intake relies on attendance and how much each patron spends on souvenirs, snacks and locker rentals. New T-shirt designs and stuffed animals highlighted gift shop sales.

"Our T-shirt order tripled ... we had customers going through the T-shirt boxes while they were still on the shelves," Lowman said.

A final weekend remains for customers to commemorate the summer with a souvenir or a ride down the water slide. To celebrate the last weekend of the season, the aquatic center is offering discounted rates culminating Monday with a $5 admittance fee and a live performance by Chaos N Disorder, a local band.

When the aquatic center closes Monday night, the Point Mallard staff will continue preparations for next year to ensure a more successful season. Point Mallard is collaborating with St. Paul, Minn.-based Themescapes to develop a master marketing plan for 2008. Themescapes provides ideas on how to promote a consistent image across the park.

Lowman anticipates a preliminary master plan in the next few weeks and a finalized plan by the end of the year. The plan will include marketing tactics, such as the Duck Bucks and Click N Print tickets implemented this year.

Coming off a high attendance season, Lowman expects the marketing plan, which will lay out events and online, radio and TV promotions, to provide the base for an even more productive 2008 season.

Labor Day weekend

Days: Saturday-Monday.

Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Events: Saturday at 11 a.m., National Guard Stars and Stripes Beach Volleyball Tournament; Monday at 2 p.m., Chaos N Disorder band.

Rates: Saturday, regular rates; Sunday, adults — $15, children 11 and under — free, senior citizens 62 and over — $8; Monday, everyone 5 and over — $5, children 4 and under — free.

Catherine Godbey

Aquatic center attendance

Compared to May 2006, attendance in May 2007 increased by 2,000.

Compared to June 2006, attendance in June 2007 increased by 11,000.

Attendance for July 2007 equaled that from July 2006.

Compared to August 2006, attendance in August 2007 increased by 4,000.

Catherine Godbey

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