Lake Norman & Mooresville

Huntersville dives into plan to make HFFA swim center profitable

Swim Club Management Group believes a good staff will help them take better care of their current members and in turn be able to attract new members.
Swim Club Management Group believes a good staff will help them take better care of their current members and in turn be able to attract new members.

The Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center has developed into a big part of the community with more than 2,500 families making up more than 8,000 members.

But in the 16-plus years since the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center was built, the bid for managing the 88,000-square-foot facility with an Olympic-sized pool and diving well, fitness center, full court gymnasium, group exercise studios, outdoor splash park and more has never been reopened.

Davidson-based Health Works Inc., known as Health Sports Works, has been the only company to manage the facility since 2002.

However, that changed March 6 when the Huntersville Town Board of Commissioners voted to allow new companies to bid for the management contract.

After a lengthy interview process, the Huntersville commissioners decided to take a closer look at three company’s proposals, including the bids from Health Sports Works, Huntersville-based Swim Club Management Group and Sports’ Facilities Management of Clearwater, Fla.

The town board held a special meeting July 11when they voted 4-2 to negotiate with Swim Club Management Group. On July 17, at the regular meeting, the commissioners made it official, voting 4-2 to terminate the contract with Health Sports Works Sept. 3, meaning SCMG will start Sept. 4.

Mayor John Arenalla says Huntersville will not only save $125,000 on the management fee, but could also save as much $238,000 in the first year in various fees and service charges.

Town manager Gerry Vincent says their goal for the HFFA throughout the whole process was simple.

“The board’s vision was to make the 88,000-square-foot facility profitable,” said Vincent. “In years’ past, the HFFA was losing money and we had to use more funds. ...

“Change is not always easy, but change is a good thing to get fresh eyes, a fresh perspective on how Swim Club Management Group can run things differently. We have to give it some time.”

The numbers

Huntersville Mayor John Arenalla says the purpose for building the HFFA in 2001 was for two reasons: first, as amenity for the residents, and second, to bring outside events that would bring more revenue into the town.

While the HFFA has had a lot of success in achieving those goals, in recent years the facility was losing money because of declining memberships and attractingfewer big events, according to Arenalla and Vincent.

We’re hoping the HFFA can get back to making money. ... We also hope the HFFA can draw bigger events, swim/diving meets, and bring more money into the area, get more heads in beds.

Huntersville Mayor John Arenalla

The losses have also forced Huntersville to dip in hotel/motel tax money.

Town leaders believe the new contract with HFFA will not only save money, but allow the facility to be profitable.

SCMG will manage the HFFA for $58,000 per year, compared to the $183,000 that Health Sports Works was charging, according to Vincent.

Arenalla says Huntersville will not only save $125,000 on the management fee, but could also save as much $238,000 in the first year in various fees and service charges.

Arenalla also noted Huntersville used approximately $650,000 of hotel/motel tax money for the HFFA in 2016, and has budgeted $400,000 for the same facility in 2017.

“We believe this contract is a lot more beneficial to the taxpayers of Huntersville,” said Arenalla, 54, the mayor since November 2015 and a Huntersville resident since 1997. “Ultimately, Huntersville taxpayers loaned money to build the HFFA ($5 million dollars from reserve fund) and hasn’t paid that back.

“We’re hoping the HFFA can get back to making money, so we can use less of the tax, so that money can go to things like police, fire and sidewalks. We also hope the HFFA can draw bigger events, swim/diving meets, and bring more money into the area, get more heads in beds.”

A new energy

Swim Club Management Group is no stranger to the Huntersville area.

President/CEO Brian Sheehan grew up here and is a North Meck High 1997 graduate and UNCC 2001 graduate. he founded Swim Club Management Group in 2002 and the Huntersville-based company has now grown with 250 clients and new offices in Asheville, Raleigh and Charlottesville and Richmond, Va.

Sheehan, 38, says earning the HFFA contract was rewarding for many reasons, including “the opportunity to work with a lot of the members who are family, lifelong friends, teachers, mentors and neighbors.”

While Swim Club Management Group doesn’t officially take over until Sept. 4, they are busy working on the transition of taking over the HFFA.

One of Sheehan’s first moves came when he named Swim Club Management Group’s Director of Human Resources Zack Brown as the HFFA’s interim wxecutive director.

Brown is used to helping businesses in transition; he was part of the transition team for Cedar Fair Entertainment when the company purchased Carowinds from Paramount a decade ago.

“The only way to be successful is to have a great work ethic, and that’s allowed us to have the success we’ve had as a company the last 15 years,” Sheehan said. “We know the HFFA has a lot of great members, great employees and a lot of good things already in place.

“But, we want to breathe new life into the (HFFA) facility and then keep it going. One of our goals is to never be complacent, because if you get complacent, you aren’t going to be around long. We know we have to bring our ‘A game,” to the job, every day.”

‘Eyes and Ears Open’

Sheehan and Brown say Swim Club Management Group’s focus from day one will be “to have their eyes and ears open” to making improvements, where necessary.

That effort includes listening to not only the current members and clients, but also the HFFA employees, whom Sheehan says will all be offered employment for 90 days.

While Swim Club Management Group will bring new ideas, programs and some employees to the HFFA, they know they don’t have to come in and change everything.

“We know there a lot of employees at HFFA that have done a tremendous job for a long time and we want to make sure we rehire those people,” Brown said. “We understand we don’t have to make major changes to everything. Our goal is to have our eyes and ears open to where we need to make improvements, and where we don’t need to change what is working already.”

Moving forward

Both Sheehan and Brown say Swim Club Management Group believes a good staff will help them take better care of their current members and in turn be able to attract new members.

If they “can take care of the people in the building every day,” they believe bigger and better events will also come to the HFFA.

“Our members are our biggest priority and focus,” Sheehan said. “We definitely want to attract more of the big events for sure, because they are important to the HFFA and the town, but not at the detriment of our members.”

One of their biggest clients is SwimMAC Carolinas’ who has a multi-year contract to rent out lanes for their competitive teams, lessons and Masters’ swimmers.

SwimMAC Carolinas’ North region team, who usually has 285 to 315 members, regularly features nationally-ranked swimmers who train at the HFFA — siuch as Hough High rising senior, Will Chan and recent Christ the King graduate and Penn State University bound Jane Donahue.

Sheehan believes longtime partners like SwimMAC Carolinas, Novant Health and more will help the HFFA be a destinatio again.

“We want to truly make the HFFA a destination, and to do that you have to have partners and members that make it a place to be,” Sheehan said. “Most of our members will drove past five places with pools or five different yoga studios on their way home from work. We have to give them a reason to come to us.”

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer:jedwardsjr23@gmail.com

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