OURAY – It’s been a banner year for the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. In 2011, for the first time ever, the gigantic outdoor municipal hot tub grossed over $1 million. The bump in revenues came not from increased visitation, which was actually down by 3 percent last year, but rather from modest fee increases that went into effect in June 2011.
“It was a point of contention when we raised the admission prices,” said pool Manager Tom Kavanaugh. “The one thing I wanted to make sure to happen was that any additional revenue generated by this pool is going back to the pool.”
That is exactly what is happening now, as a $110,000 bathhouse renovation gets underway this week. The project, awarded to Kunz Construction of Ouray, encompasses a significant cosmetic update of the two locker rooms and lobby, and is slated for April completion.
The fact that revenues are being reinvested in the pool facility is big news in itself.
For years, the City of Ouray used the pool as a profitable cash cow to prop up its whole Parks Fund, paying not only for the pool’s own basic operating expenses (which rack up to over $850,000 annually, Kavanaugh said), but also for maintenance of numerous other park facilities and projects throughout the town, including the mile-long North Ouray Corridor river-grooming and trails scheme, and even for upkeep at the Ouray Community Center.
Recent capital improvement projects at the pool, including new filters in 2005 and a partial rebuild of the Box Canyon line (a pipeline which delivers hot spring water to the pool from its source near Box Canyon Falls) in 2009, put further pressure on pool revenues.
The Parks Fund was also raided to pay off a $500,000 legal settlement stemming from a dispute with a local business over the effects of an experimental geothermal drilling program on which the city embarked in the 1980s. The settlement and accompanying debt service were finally paid off in 2010, leaving the Parks Fund a full million dollars in the red.
In 2011, the Ouray City Council made significant changes to its budget structure, moving many standard park operations from the Parks Fund to the General Fund.
“That was the first step that tried to turn the tide,” said City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli. “We removed the burden of propping up the general parks service, and really streamlined the Parks Fund to just focus on the pool, Box Canyon Park (a municipal park encompassing the dramatic Box Canyon Falls), and Rotary Park.”
Those changes, coupled with the fee increases that went into effect last summer, have increased the revenues flowing into the Parks Fund now, and will expedite how quickly the city can pay off its debt.
“Right now we’re on pace to pay off the total debt in three to four years, which will be magnificent,” said Rondinelli. “The idea is that once we get the debt paid off, then the city can really explore some significant improvements at the bathhouse and pool facility – we’re talking a multi-million dollar investment.”
One option for paying for such an ambitious project would be revenue anticipation bonds. “I have already had conversations with the bonding companies and they will hopefully see this as a great opportunity, once the debt’s paid off,” Rondinelli said. “It’s such a great facility and such a profitable facility, too.”
City Councilors will initiate discussion about a new pool master plan within the year. “Their number-one priority is the reduction of the deficit, but they recognize we also need to continue to make improvements in the facility,” Rondinelli said.
“It’s a million dollar business, and we need to treat it that way.”
In the meantime, pool patrons will get to enjoy the mostly cosmetic improvements slated for the bathhouse over the coming months – new tile, new floors, updating partitions, new fixtures, new lighting, new counters. The bathhouse will emerge from its makeover with a “Mountain Contemporary” theme devised by an interior designer from Grand Junction.
“We want to bring the historic feel of this town into the pool,” Kavanaugh explained of the concept, including the use of historic photos as the inspiration for wall murals in the bathhouse and lobby.
Much of the work is scheduled for nighttime, and the pool will keep regular business hours throughout the bathhouse renovation.
City officials, pool management, and the Ouray Chamber Resort Association are also working on an aggressive marketing plan for the pool in 2012, including a new website set to launch sometime this spring, and an expanded social media presence. Other plans include an increased focus on the pool’s popular learn-to-swim program, expanded kayak classes and perhaps even scuba lessons.
“We’re making improvements to the facility, but still want to keep that balance,” Rondinelli said. “We’re not trying to turn it into Glenwood Springs. We want it to keep its own character.”