The Step by Step Park Planning Process Guide

There’s power in your parks and recreation assets. Especially when they are optimized. Numerous studies in recent years have linked community parks to higher property values (and higher tax revenues), improved health for residents living near a park, and reduced crime rates. That greenspace or recreation center in your city is far more than a line item battling against road repair and other funding initiatives on a yearly budget. It’s an agent for community pride and placemaking and its programming and activities can greatly enhance the lives of its citizens. For your city to benefit from a great park or recreation center, a plan must be put into place.

The Park Planning Process

At Sports Facilities Advisory and Sports Facilities Management (SFA & SFM), we believe in the power of planning. We’ve seen communities throughout the country be transformed by the presence of an active and engaging park. However, a plan that includes input from the community and uses best practices must be put in place. If you are uncertain about where to start, let the steps below guide you in the park planning process.

Step 1: Determining the Needs of your Community

 At its heart, a park is about the people it serves. The first step in the park planning process is determining the needs of your community.  Do they want an aquatics center? A dog park? More youth programming? Input from the community will be key in building a park that will ultimately be successful. Surveys (both in person and online) and public meetings can be used to learn the outcomes your community would like to receive from a new park project. Beyond community members, there are stakeholders and other important groups whose input is critical to the success of your project. This may include local businesses, school officials, neighborhood associations, or your city’s police department. The emergence or enhancement of a park may have an impact on these groups. The physical health and vitality of your community must be considered as well when determining its needs. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 22% of kids ages 6 to 12 in households with incomes under $25,000 played sports on a regular basis. In many cases, access to sports facilities in parks and recreation assets can help boost this percentage.

Step 2: Evaluate Current Park Assets

Once you understand the needs of community residents, it’s time to take a look at your current park assets. Do these assets currently meet the needs and desire of the community? What could be different? What’s the scope of the changes that they desire to be made? Is it as simple as adding programs for seniors or treadmills to the recreation center? Or do their needs require a new facility? Are there areas within your city that don’t have a park? It’s also important to compare your current park assets and programs to what’s being offered by private facilities. Is the quality comparable? Even if your programming is more affordable, your community members are more likely to use it, if it’s of high quality. Safety and technical components should be considered as well. Do you have old or warn out equipment in your park facilities? Is current technology in place? These questions and more must be considered to determine the gap between your vision and your current parks assets. A plan must be built to fill that gap.

Step 3: Determine Financial Feasibility

Park planning requires funding. If the scope of your community’s vision is large, a feasibility study could be vital. Feasibility studies are reports that provides a detailed analysis of factors that will positively or negatively impact your proposed park asset. This includes information about the current market and potential users of your new park asset as well as an analysis of competitors with similar offerings. With a clear picture of the environment for which your park concept will operate, a financial forecast can be generated to help stakeholders understand the financial considerations associated with a project. At SFA, we create a ProForma, which is an institutional grade financial forecast that includes preliminary construction and start-up cost estimates, a detailed 5-year financial forecast based on options for what a facility may offer, and an economic impact analysis. This financial forecast is designed to give funding resources an understanding of a project’s potential for success and a timeframe for providing a positive economic impact.

Step 4: Create a Project Plan

Once you understand the gap between the needs of your community and what your park assets currently provide, and the investment needed to fill that gap, it’s time to create a plan that cohesively encompasses this information. The plan will vary based on your needs and the scope of the project, but should include the following components:
  • Comprehensive concept
  • Site Selection process (new projects)
  • Funding plan
  • Venue and vendor planning (including construction contractor selection)
  • Project timelines
  • Marketing and programming plan
  • Key performance indicators for the park asset
Once these components have been established and stakeholder buy-in has been achieved. The process of implementing the park plan can begin.

Step 5: Plan implementation

There are a number of moving parts that make up the whole of creating a new park asset. Once a plan is in place, the involved parties, including stakeholders, city officials, project leads, and contractors must come together to push a project to completion. Communication and coordination are crucial to success at this stage of the park planning process. Project management tools and best practices will be a tremendous help in achieving your goals during this time period. Whether your community is considering a new parks and recreation project or wants to optimize a current asset, SFA & SFM has the expertise and experience from projects in over 2,000 communities to help you make a positive impact. Contact us or call us today at 727-474-3845.