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MBAs make a splash with City Park

After suffering more than $42 million in damage from Hurricane Katrina, historic New Orleans City Park hopes to come back with splash, thanks in part to the help of the Freeman School.

“We were very impressed,” says Bob Becker, CEO of New Orleans City Park. “I think they did a really fine job.”

Becker is referring to the work of a team of MBA students who studied the feasibility of building a “splash park” to generate additional revenues for City Park. Philip Allison, Travis Goff, Meriel Hughes and Kathryn Spruill spent more than three months compiling post-Katrina demographics, conducting market research, surveying existing splash parks across the country, and calculating construction costs, operational expenses and potential revenues. The MBAs presented their report to City Park officials in December 2006.

City Park was one of a half-dozen local businesses that students worked with as part of instructor John Burrows’ Management Consulting class, but Allison says the nature of this particular client made the project especially rewarding. “It felt good to work with City Park,” says Allison. “With all the issues they’ve had post-Katrina, it was just a better project for us to work on, and it was better because they needed the most help.

A splash park is a zero-depth aquatic playground. While a traditional playground might have swing sets, merry-go-rounds and slides, a splash park features colorful installations that shoot and spray streams of water. Since the water is immediately drained, it eliminates the need for lifeguards. City Park officials had proposed the idea of building a splash park before Hurricane Katrina, but in the wake of the storm the park lacked the resources to give the project an adequate study.

At the same time, Rhonda Coignet, executive director of strategic planning and the office of external affairs, had been working to develop a partnership between City Park and Tulane to help each institution with recovery-related projects. She brought the splash park project to the attention of the Freeman School and Burrows, who was soliciting projects for his management consulting class.

Combining business skills with ingenuity––Spruill did market research by interviewing potential customers at an uptown ice cream parlor––the team submitted a comprehensive 50-page report detailing everything from expected water usage to prospective park designs. Using conservative attendance figures, the students estimated that City Park could generate profits of between $115,000 and $286,000 per year with the splash park.

Becker says the aspect of the report that most impressed him was a spreadsheet that enables City Park officials to alter assumptions about the project and see what effect those changes have on potential costs and revenues. “There’s a lot of variance in terms of how we build the splash park and all that affects the financial model,” Becker explains. “They set up a model which allows us to change attendance estimates, admission charges, number of employees and other revenue sets and see the effect on all the other aspects of it. That’s a very useful tool for us as we go out to solicit funding.”

Becker says City Park has been actively seeking donors to make the splash park a reality for some time, but now, thanks to the work of the Freeman MBAs, his job is a little easier. “All donors like to know that their money is going to go to a successful project,” Becker concludes. “I think the ability to say that we have a good operating model and that we believe the facility can be successful on this model is very important. It gives us another arrow in the quiver as we go out and solicit support.”

Last Updated 11/19/08