Parks Board looks at incentives

WEIRTON – Concerned about falling pass sales, the Weirton Board of Parks & Recreations voted Monday to sweeten the deal.

“People want a deal, people want to feel like they’re getting something for nothing,” said Program Director Kevin Elias. “When they get value, they feel good.”

Elias said the Millsop Community Center affords patrons a range of activities not available at other local fitness centers, like a large, heated indoor pool, racquetball courts, a full-sized gymnasium and special events rooms, “but we still see at least eight other fitness centersmaking a buck in our regional area despite offering their customers far less.”

The three-pronged plan calls for giving free Starvaggi Pool membership to any individual or family purchasing sponsor memberships; an incentive to frequent day pass buyers, giving them one free admission ticket for every five day passes they purchase at either Millsop Community Center or Starvaggi Pool and allowing those who purchase individual or family passes to the community center to piggyback a pool pass for a small fee based on the number of people on the center pass.

The third option, which they’re calling the “Friend of Recreation” pass, will earn holders other benefits, like discounted picnic shelter or room rentals, discounted race entries and discounted youth leagues and activities.

“Good customer service and product certainly is a key,” Elias told board members in the proposal. “But you still need to offer customers a value so they come away feeling like they got something. For this reason, we’re looking at ways to repackage our daily admissions and memberships so they are more attractive to not only our current patrons, but potential new customers as well.”

Earlier, Parks Director Terry Weigel, who doubles as Weirton’s Ward 7 councilman, told the board the added value could be enough to sway people in the market for gym memberships.

“It continues to be tough out there. That reflects on the economy and job market,” he said.

In other action, the board decided installing cameras on the Panhandle Trail isn’t feasible.

The trail lacks electric service, and to install lines would be pricey, Weigel said. And while solar- and wind-powered cameras are available, Weigel said they, too, are costly – as much as $15,000 to $16,000 each.

Several people who use the Panhandle Trail had complained several months ago of vandalism along the trail, and one said she’d been threatened and her vehicle robbed.

“(But) I think we need cameras at Marland Heights Park and Starvaggi, too,” board member Doug Finton added, raising the question of where they were most needed.

“We have them here and they’re useless,” Operations Director Coty Shingle said. “All you get is a picture of someone so you can identify them, and then you get to do investigating.”

Weigel, meanwhile, told the board volunteers had already begun sprucing up Starvaggi Park, an effort that will continue this weekend with Comcast Cares Day at the park.

Clean-up also has begun at Marland Heights Park, where members of the Marland Heights Community Association spent several hours last week gathering leaves and debris.

Board members commended the Community Center staff for their efforts in revamping the prep kitchen, a major assist to groups and individuals renting rooms there for special events. The new cabinets and countertop were from Raggi’s Home Improvement.

“It’s beautiful,” Finton said, adding that Raggi’s Lou Comis is “not only local, but a very active member” of the Community Center.

MHCA member Iris Himmelrick told board members a local dealer is measuring for carpet for the miniature golf course at the park, and they’ve also spoken to the Weirton Woman’s Club about planting flowers there.

They’d like both in place for a May 25 wine tasting and jazz concert featuring Erin Burkett, a world-renowned singer who has starred on Broadway and is currently singing with the CLO in Pittsburgh.

Himmelrick said the group also is “getting response from our letter going out to contractors for the feasibility study.”

MHCA recently was awarded a $15,000 grant from the West Virginia Historic Preservation Office, which will be used to prepare a report on the financial feasibility of restoring and operating historic Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool at Marland Heights Park. The circular pool, which isn’t heated, dates to 1934.