Attendance at Kiwanis increased by more than 40% last summer and the park potentially could more than cover costs associated with its operation, officials said last week.
Kiwanis Park “is not fully being used for what it should be,” according to Parks & Recreation Commission Chair Rona Siegel.
“The facility is incredible inside that concession,” Siegel said during the Commission’s regular meeting, held Jan. 8 at Town Hall. “It is restaurant-grade for the summer and spring months. Not winter, it isn’t insulated. But I think that if somebody would pay a decent rent, it would more than offset whatever expenses this park has. So I think you really have to give it a good try before we just give up.”
The comments came during a discussion of the Recreation Department’s draft proposed operating budget for next fiscal year. The Board of Finance has called for municipal departments to come in with a 2% reduction. Recreation Director Steve Benko presented an overall spending plan down 4.8%, including a $57,000 reduction for aquatic operations at Kiwanis—reflecting, in part, a shift in costs for lifeguards to the Waveny Pool account—and a $24,000 reduction tied to the elimination of one summer day camp.
Commissioner Sally Campbell noted that officials in the past have not properly accounted for revenues generated by Kiwanis Park because those who purchase passes to the Waveny Pool get a full-time pass to Kiwanis with it.
The seasonal 13.8-acre park off of Old Norwalk Road features new playground equipment in a large children’s play area, a spring water-fed swimming hole, restrooms, snack bar, deck with picnic tables and beach volleyball courts. It’s used by multiple daycare facilities and summer camps, notably the New Canaan YMCA’s, and officials have inchoate plans to introduce an open-air ice skating rink in winter.
Last summer, attendance at Kiwanis was about 3,400—up 1,000 from the prior year, Benko said. Guest fees increased more than $400, he said.
Yet some on the Commission questioned the park’s usage, prospects and viability. Many local families who had been Kiwanis pass-holders switched over to Waveny Pool when it opened more than 15 years ago.
Benko said that First Selectman Kevin Moynihan is “looking at what the usage of the park is, how do we increase usage, why are we spending $80,000 on it.”
Commissioner Jack Hawkins said, “I talk to my wife—we are frequent park hoppers, we go around the parks all the time—and we barely see anybody over there.”
Siegel said there’s an “ongoing conversation” regarding Kiwanis and how to get additional uses and visibility for it “as you are with Bristow, as you already have with Waveny and as you already have with the [Waveny] pool.”
“I think that there are a bunch of things buzzing—including whether the Y uses it or pays more to use it or takes it, or something,” Siegel said.
Town officials have made changes recently in Kiwanis, including deleting the park from the lease held by its food concession operator and ridding a rented residence on the property of its tenants.
Campbell said it’s unfair to judge Kiwanis Park on a profit-and-loss basis when other parks, such as Irwin and Bristow, are not held to the same standard.
“Many of our parks are just used, they are there for people to use,” Campbell said. “They are not there to generate revenues.”
Benko said many in town are unaware that New Canaan offers its own “beach” facility and that next summer Kiwanis will feature new beach umbrellas for park-goers, and possibly a new water slide. The town also is planning to host an “open house” in June to spotlight the offerings at Kiwanis Park, officials said.
Siegel said a committee of the Commission would focus on Kiwanis and report back to the appointed body in the summer.
Regarding efforts to realize the park’s full potential, she said, “We have not given it a good college try.”