Pay-and-play push to increase Arena's casual use

"Pay-and-play" tennis and basketball will be part of a drive to make more use of Arena Manawatu and get more Palmerston North residents moving.

Described in the city council's recently adopted active recreation strategy as "a treasure", one of the biggest indoor sports centres in the country is to be transformed to showcase how to get more people taking part in casual sports.

Council policy analyst Tracey Hunt said the goal was to make Arena the city's central hub for sport and recreation, and to use its 33 venues on the 18-hectare central site in smarter ways.

The goals are to achieve better value for the ratepayers' dollar, and greater use by residents.

Manager David Walsh is on board with the shift in direction to encourage greater community use while still retaining capacity to attract large regional and national events.

The first trial out of the blocks is the introduction of lunchtime "pay-and-play" tennis and basketball.

Mr Walsh said Arena Manawatu went noticeably quiet during the school day, and the "nominal" $5 charge for an hour was designed to encourage more people to come along and play in their lunch break.

"A lot of people don't have the time to allocate to traditional sports.

"What we are trying to do is show people that to participate here does not take a lot of time, but it's active and it's social and it's utilising the facilities as much as possible."

He said Arena management remained determined to also attract large sporting events that contributed to the city's vitality.

The challenge was to accommodate both types of uses without having to displace regular community bookings to make way for larger commercial users.

Ms Hunt said her research for the active recreation strategy had shown Palmerston North had some "fantastic" facilities.

They include the Arena, 26 sports fields, pools, 179 parks, schools and community centres, walking and cycling tracks, yet the population is only slightly less sedentary than the New Zealand average.

The population is also changing, with more older people, more ethnic groups, and people with disabilities having different needs that had to be catered for.

"What we want is for Arena to meet community needs, and be used more often. It's good for health, it's good for social interaction, having connections with other people, meeting people, and belonging to a group - all of which contributes to social wellbeing."

Keys to getting more people moving were to promote the facilities, to improve access, provide more flexible options, and for many, to reduce the barrier of cost.

While encouraging more people to use what was already available was a starting point, the strategy had also sparked a review of Arena Manawatu's facilities, and need for future investment.

For Ms Hunt, one of the important ideas was to create a front entrance to the Arena.

The council recently bought a property on the corner of Cuba and Waldegrave streets as an option for creating a future front gate that provides a better link to and from the central city.

The management plan will be rolled out for review early next year, with input from Sport New Zealand, and proposals for future spending on the facilities to be recommended to the next long-term plan review in 2015.

Manawatu Standard