Saying rental rates at Waveny House have fallen out-of-line with similar area facilities and require seasonal flexibility, parks officials last week voted unanimously to recommend a new slate of fees.
Whereas rates for several years have been fixed at $2,650 for non-residents and $1,500 for residents, the Parks & Recreation Commission at its Jan. 11 meeting voted I favor of the following schedule:
Proposed Rental Rates, Waveny House
|Friday||Saturday||Sunday & Weekdays|
|December to March||$2,200||$2,700||$2,200|
|April to November||$3,200||$3,900||$3,200|
** Residents granted a $500 discount
In addition to those fees, a rental of the “walled garden” area would be available for $350 under the proposed rates, up from $250.
The town should be drawing as much money as possible in renting out the facility, according to Gene Goodman, who drew up the proposed rates with help from fellow Parks & Rec commissioner Katie Owsley.
“We should be maximizing the revenue,” Goodman said at the meeting, held at Lapham Community Center. “And if we look at it as a service to the town, then the town residents will get a $500 discount.”
The commission voted 10-0 in favor of the measure. The proposed fees now go to the Board of Selectmen.
Goodman in a memo to the commission said that 90 percent of rentals occur from April to November, and that weekend bookings also vary widely depending on the day of the week—57 percent on Saturday, 23 percent Friday and 20 percent Sunday.
He also credited to Recreation Department Office Manager Bea Watkins with her observation that the average bridal gown costs more than the proposed rental fee.
During the meeting, commissioners wondered aloud whether the steep increase for non-residents seeking to book a Saturday summer wedding—about half again as much as it now costs—would put off prospective parties, particularly since there’s no air conditioning at Waveny House.
Commission Chair Sally Campbell called on Watkins, who shows people around Waveny House, how many see the 1912-built structure and its attractive grounds and do not return.
“Not many,” Watkins said.
“It’s a destination that is chosen because that’s the environment they want, it’s the look that they want. If we put in air conditioning—the beauty of Waveny is the vista that you see out the back and on the patio, those doors are never going to stay closed, those windows are never going to stay closed. It’s going to be a waste of cost that the town will incur and they will want fresh air. It’s a catch-22. If it happens to be 95 percent humidity on a 90-degree day with not much of a breeze, it may not be the most pleasant but we have never had anyone say that they wanted to cancel or the summer is too hot.”
Goodman said he looked at fee schedules at a number of other venues, including the Darien Community Association, Ridgefield’s Community Center, Norwalk’s Cranbury Park and Keeler Tavern and Stamford Nature Center.
Commissioners asked whether Waveny is booked out (for the summer, yes), how many of the renters are out-of-towners (about 65 percent), how far out people can book (two years for residents, one for non-residents), whether people pay upfront (they pay a 25 percent non-refundable fee), when is the last day that people can cancel (the balance is due 90 days prior to the event) and whether a $125 hourly fee for rehearsal dinner practices pays off (yes because it’s a 3-hour minimum).
Commissioner Jason Milligan asked the group to consider what its overall goal was, and that if maximizing revenue was the answer, to think about other areas where it may be applied, such as in rentals of residences under town control.
Recreation Director Steve Benko said it’s been about eight years since Waveny House rental rates were raised. With the economic downturn in late-2008, “our rentals dropped off substantially,” he said.
The town froze its rates in order to stabilize its business, but “now we are at the low end of the scope and we need to get them back up to be comparable,” Benko said.
He added that part of the town’s charge for maximizing revenues from Waveny House is that New Canaan is preparing to invest in the building. On Wednesday, the Town Council is scheduled to vote on a measure that would allow New Canaan to issue bonds for a $3.2 million roof replacement at Waveny—a capital project still under discussion.
Benko said bringing air conditioning to Waveny would be another $3 million project, though the facility itself—in particular its rear patio—sees a natural evening breeze even in midsummer that makes for a comfortable gathering.
Campbell said that anyone with an agreed-upon rate for their wedding or other event is locked in at that figure.