The Clubhouse Benefits from Municipal Ownership
Outwardly, The Clubhouse may appear similar to other family entertainment centers (FECs).
The 7-acre attraction in Ardmore, Oklahoma, features an arcade, miniature golf, go-karts, a zip line, and even a seasonal ice rink. But one significant aspect makes The Clubhouse different: It’s one of only a handful of U.S. FECs wholly owned and operated by a municipality.
In 2016, the Ardmore community, with a population of around 25,000, expressed a desire for the kind of entertainment that only FECs can provide. That led the city into unfamiliar territory—opening an attraction.
Alicia Henry, assistant director of the City of Ardmore Parks and Recreation Department, tells Funworld operating an FEC as a municipality can present challenges. The city’s somewhat lengthy bidding process took years to navigate, with The Clubhouse opening in September 2020. Another is the need to submit employment applications through the city’s parks and recreation department since all FEC staff are city employees.
“We had to develop everything and fit it into city regulations and procedures,” she says. “We had to develop our handbooks, money-handling procedures, birthday party packages, etc., all without having any prior experience working in an FEC. For instance, as a city entity, having cash on hand is not a standard. Also, we have to think outside the box when it comes to staff rewards. We cannot purchase anything with city funds to give to staff, which includes gift cards. Our money is taxpayer money.”
But there’s one significant advantage to municipal ownership—having the support of city funding, which she says helps in cases like a pandemic or when major equipment needs replacing.
“One other difference is that we, as city employees, don’t just represent a small business, we represent an entire city,” she says. “Our personal lives and professional lives represent the City of Ardmore and are scrutinized by the public.”
The $8.5 million project hoped to open before summer 2020, but COVID-19-related delays pushed the opening until last autumn.
The Clubhouse name was chosen to recreate childhood memories of playing in backyard treehouses.
“We were definitely expecting the community to be happy because they wanted this, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much they love it,” says Henry. “Our revenue has by far exceeded our expectations, and we still haven’t been open a year.”
In fact, thoughts are already turning to future expansion. The Clubhouse features several outdoor attractions, including “Water Wars,” which Henry describes as “the ultimate water balloon fight”; “Flight Zip Line,” stretching between three towers and three zip lines; and four challenge courses. The 9,000-square-foot indoor area offers 31 arcade games, a café, and party rooms.