McDermont Venture, Inc. run by former McDermont managers takes over operations from the City of Lindsay
By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
LINDSAY – As 2017 changed over into 2018 so did the management of Lindsay’s McDermont Field House. The City of Lindsay decided last year it was time to part ways with the department and let a private company handle operations.
Originally titled VAA Inc., former director of McDermont Clint Ashcraft along with former managers Deici Avila and Alfredo Velasco, created the company specifically to take over operations. The title was originally the initials of each partner’s last name but after submitting paperwork to the California Secretary of State’s office they were told they hand to change it. Fortunately the name McDermont Venture Inc., (MVI) was available.
Now what was once the McDermont Field House owned and operated by the City of Lindsay is McDermont X. Before, the City would share staff between McDermont and the Wellness Center with a combined 44 employees that were full time, part time or management. With City employee payroll and general operations the City was forced to supplement McDermont more than $3 million over 10 years; all the while trying to pay for the facility’s initial construction which was more than $13 million.
Ashcraft says McDermont X can operate with greater freedom since they are no longer under the purview of the City.
“Our hands were a little more tied [when we were under the City], when we adopted a fee structure it was set…now we can work with someone who wants to come in,” Ashcraft said.
However, that is one in a small series of little changes he plans to pursue. He added they plan to introduce a zip-line – something they have been working on for years, a trampoline area for kids and an escape room.
Ashcraft said he spoke with former Lindsay finance director Tamera Laken when she returned from traveling abroad. She mentioned that recreational facilities in Europe have activities where a group of eight or 12 people are put in a large room and they have to follow clue to find their way out. They have a time limit of one hour to complete their escape.
Another addition Ashcraft hopes to bring is for younger children that are 18 months to 2 years old. He was approached about a grant by First 5 Tulare County early in 2017 when McDermont was still run by the City, it would help introduce some soft play activities like building blocks, slides and places to climb. It would also include some motor skill exercises intended to help children with autism.
“I have an autistic daughter and that would have been huge if she could have [had a place to] flip switches or had been able to put her hands in water…kids love that stuff anyways, but it helps kids who may need that extra exercise,” Aschraft said.
He says those a few of the small changes he thinks will make a big difference.
Ashcraft said that there are four main tenants that bring revenue into McDermont X: memberships, weekend crowds and birthdays, organizational rentals from schools, churches and other groups, and venue rentals. Some of the odds-and-ends that bring in revenue are concessions and the arcade.
Keeping revenue roughly the same and controlling costs since last June has already started to pay dividends in the books. Ashcraft said McDermont would normally be down $200,000 by this point in the year heading into their busiest season, however, right now they are only looking at a $20,000 short fall.
Part of the savings came in the form of decreased staff. Last year the City laid-off several employees to bring McDermont’s budget nearly in balance. Now that MVI has taken over the staffing level is made up of largely part time employees. Including managers there are a total of 24 staff members. Ashcraft said he could hire as many as six more if need be but he is unsure as of now.
Aside from staffing changes MVI hopes to make a real push on the marketing front. During the Lindsay City Council’s last meeting of the year in early December Steve Velasquez, who was on the Council when the City decided to build McDermont, said they did not do a good job of marketing it. Ashcraft agreed and now that he is running the place he wants to dedicate between 5 and 10 percent of his budget to marketing.
“For starters I’d like to put a sign out front so people don’t think it’s a fruit company when they go by,” Ashcraft joked.
Prior to MVI, he said that they never dedicated more than 2% of the budget to advertising.
He said they have been working with DMI Ad Agency since the latter part of 2017 to help rejuvenate their digital presence. They have been able to use some search engine optimization tools such as displaying their ad when someone looks for McDermont X on Google. But he said they would like to get back to buying billboard ad space as well.
While MVI runs operations at the facility they do not own the building. But MVI would like to buy it one day and they plan to make strides toward that. As of now the arrangement is the City will take 50 percent of MVI’s net profits as a lease payment at the end of the calendar year. When MVI hits the threshold of $100,000 or more of net profit all 50% will be a payment towards buying the facility.
However, Ashcraft said once MVI crosses the threshold they will have to meet at least $100,000 of net profits every year. He added there will be a penalty assessed if they do not meet $100,000 but those terms are yet to be hammered out.
Lindsay finance director Bret Harmon said MVI’s lease payments will be attributed toward the City’s debt service. He did not say whether it would be applied to the amount they owe on McDermont’s initial construction, which this year is $191,800.