Turning Cool Spots Into Hot Cash

Whether its families, grandparents, picnickers, little league fans or fisherman, the one thing everybody appreciates on a sunny, hot day is shade. So much so, they’re willing to pay for it. At least, that’s the lesson park and recreation departments all across the country are learning.

This demand, coupled with the health benefits (and public awareness campaigns) of keeping cool, has led the shade industry to develop a variety of colorful, cost-effective shade options that go beyond simply providing shade and instead make a statement.

Aesthetically, shade structures with their many dramatic colors, shapes and fabrics can create spectacular attractions. And, by simply changing the colors, logos, or styles of existing shade structures (or adding new ones), a pool, playground, ball field, park or other outdoor facility can be made to seem new again. And, people use them.

As Steve Pastusak, Assistant General Manager of Bayshore Development, the company that manages Splash Mountain Water in Ocean City, Maryland, says, “the advantages of umbrellas (or other shade structures) are two-fold – looks, the color and the height, and functionality. People don’t want to bake in the sun while eating or lounging, especially caregivers or grandma and grandpa. They’d rather be in the shade.”

Making Shade Pay

The simple realization that shade can play an important design role and that people want a cool space to relax has created a somewhat unexpected revenue option for cash strapped departments.

While aquatics attractions, like Pastusak’s Splash Mountain Water attraction, have found they can rent out shaded areas to large groups for use as a gathering/picnic area, parks and recreation departments are starting to take the concept a bit further.

In addition to renting out shade structures as a gathering place for birthday parties or group events, some departments have found these non-traditional outdoor spaces are also great places to host fee-based programming (story time, crafts classes, etc.) allowing them to offer more classes and more programming then their traditional indoor facilities would ordinarily have accommodated.

In some cases, they’re creating corporate partnerships and essentially having a third party program the area at no cost to the department. For example, one department worked with its local bookstore and library to create a free lending library housed under a shaded area adjacent to one of its buildings. Patrons were able to sit in the shade and read, borrow a book or leave a book.

Popularity and Rates

The City of Lewisville, Texas has started renting multi-colored “Party Brellas” (manufactured by Sun Ports, Int’l) for all types of parties. They charge a nominal fee of $25 per hour and a half to rent the covered areas at both their Sun Valley and College Station facilities.

“Once people figured out they could rent the space, it became extremely popular,” says Hilary Pike, Aquatics Supervisor for the city. “By the end of the summer, we were selling out every day. And this year we had patrons inquiring about reservations in January – even though we weren’t accepting reservations until May.”

James Hughes, Director of Parks, Recreation and Special Events in Bedford, Texas agreed shaded spots have become increasingly popular. The City of Bedford recently opened a new water park and leisure pool at its Bedford Boy’s Ranch, an existing community park. Incorporated into the overall design of the new facility was a shade strategy that added to the fun, colorful look. Shade structures were placed around the splash pad, the tot pool, and one of the cabanas and throughout the park itself.

As Hughes says, “When your days get up to more than 100 degrees, shade is very important. Everyone gathers under the shaded areas.”

Like other departments, Hughes rents out these new shaded areas for large private gatherings and parties. The cabana, which uses a unique, attractive cable suspension shade structure, rents for $90 for two hours and includes ten pool/water park passes for the day. The other rental area is a wooden pavilion/structure. It rents for $65 for two hours and also includes ten passes for the day.

Corporate Sponsorships

Long the bastion of major sporting events and venues, corporate sponsorship money has begun trickling down to the local level. Colorful, eye-catching shade structures can be the perfect place to display corporate sponsorship logos without ruining the overall feel or design of the facility.

“Corporate sponsorships and in-park advertising can enhance your aquatic center’s bottom line while promoting local businesses and enhancing your department’s promotions and special events”, says Judith Leblein, CPRP Operations Analyst at Water Technology, Inc. in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. “Public pools, family aquatic centers and water parks can begin a program of advertising that can be specifically tailored to meet each facility’s specific needs.”

Incorporating sponsors’ logos in fabric (or other material) can be valuable exposure as well as provide well-needed sun protection for patrons.

As Leblein says, “Be sure to have intimate knowledge of the facility and its design. Dream about the future for the facility and let your imagination run wild. The opportunities are there, just waiting for you to discover them.”

Shapes and Sizes

The type of facility your building/using and the type of experience you’re working to provide your patrons will ultimately determine the style and size of the shade structure you purchase.

As Scott Stefnac, project manager for Water Technology, Inc. says, “Resort style facilities typically use smaller, market-type umbrellas and custom cabana areas to meet the aesthetic image of the facility and, in some situations, use larger, custom structures. Commercial water parks typically have a mixture of shade systems, usually larger “umbrellas” or fabric structures of 20 to 30 foot sizes. This allows for groups or multiple individuals to share a space and provide a larger shade area. These types of facilities also tend to explore using larger, “tensile” type fabric or covered areas for group spaces such as dining pavilions or over pools. Municipal facilities tend to limit themselves to small “umbrella” fabric structures up to 20 feet because of cost and operations. These municipal facilities may also use pre-fabricated hard structures in group areas for picnicking and parties and small numbers are expanding their budgets to increase style and size as may fit their aesthetic and functional needs.”

Ultimately, shade structures come in all shapes, styles, sizes and materials. You can choose to use fabric structures (umbrellas, sails, etc.) or permanent structures (pavilions, etc.) or a combination of both. In the end, there are pros and cons to each type and, usually, logical situations where one is better then another (i.e.: it’s easier to cover a playground with a shade sail then a huge pavilion).

Tips from the Trenches

When it comes to matching the right outdoor shade structure to the right needs and in the right place – these tips from experts in the field might guide you in the right direction:

* Operate within your budget

* Know what you are planning with the space and have a clear purpose

* Consider the right materials for your application, fabric, metal or wood

* Determine occupancy numbers and size the structure accordingly

* Have your structure fit a theme or compliment other structural styles on the property (style, color, etc.)

* Find a service-oriented company with a good reputation to work with

The Mommy Market

A budding new market for shade is Mom’s. Or, as some call it, the “Mommy Market.”

Some departments and public agencies have begun creating linear uses for shade along the perimeters of buildings to create places where mom and baby can spend some quiet time. They’re installing signs reading “Stroller Parking” or “Time-Out Spot” near these shaded areas and watching them fill up with breastfeeding moms, napping tots and over stimulated kids who need to take a moment and chill out.

Of course, providing these nice, desirable shady spaces isn’t all peaches and cream. As Leblien says, “In this day of stranger danger, moms are not excited about letting others into their shade circle.”

So, be sure to have plenty of space – and maybe post some rules of the road for its use.

Supporting material for this article was supplied by Jay Jensen, Marketing Director, USA Shade & Fabric Structures, Judith Leiblein, Operations Analyst, Water Technology, Inc., Hilary Pikes, Aquatics Manager, the City of Lewisville, Texas and James Hughes, Director of Parks, Recreation and Special Events in Bedford, Texas.