According to data provided to The Augusta Chronicle, more than 4,600 members are currently enrolled with the Kroc Center, which had its grand opening Aug. 6. More than 500 people on average use the facility daily, a number that includes members and day pass holders but also individuals for church services, birthday parties, sports games, the Kroc Center Cafe, classes and use of other facility space.
On a recent night, Capt. Todd Mason, administrator for the Kroc Center, stood in the rotunda area of the facility surrounded by sights and sounds of several activities designed for a diverse membership. A brass music group practiced in one room, a women’s ministry met in another, and people used the pool and gym for fitness.
“It was just amazing to stop in my tracks and realize everything that’s going on at once,” Mason said. “When I drive in each day and I see all the cars and vehicles here, I think it’s doing what it was supposed to do.”
Three other Kroc Centers serving cities comparable in population to Augusta but open longer than the Augusta facility have slightly higher membership numbers. Of the cities analyzed, Augusta-Richmond County has the highest population of 200,549.
The Kroc Center in Salem, Ore., which opened in October 2009 and serves a city of 154,637, has about 6,000 members. Its goal is to grow to approximately 7,000 members, Steve Bireley, Kroc/community center coordinator for The Salvation Army Western Territory, said in an e-mail.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., population 188,040, the Kroc Center currently enrolls more than 5,000 members. The center, which opened in November 2010, peaked at 5,700 members in April, said Stephanie Denton, marketing and membership director. The Grand Rapids center did not set membership goals for its first year, but hopes to enroll 7,000 to 8,000 individuals by the end of this year.
In Ohio, Dayton’s Kroc Center, which opened in May 2010, has 5,200 current members in a city of 141,527 people. The facility offers more than 200 programs every week for hundreds of users, said Maj. Tom Duperree, administrator.
“We hover at that 5,000 mark,” he said. “We were there within a year’s time.”
But many in Augusta have their eyes set on other markers of success besides membership. The Kroc Center was promoted as a vehicle for more real estate and business investment in the Harrisburg community, and those expectations haven’t diminished.
“I would be shocked if long term the Kroc Center doesn’t make an impact on revitalization,” said Katherine Moore, the director of the Georgia Conservancy’s Blueprint for Successful Communities program.
The conservancy eventually will measure the center’s impact against a comprehensive study conducted in Harrisburg and the surrounding area on property values, land sales, tax records and crime rates.
Beyond any economic impact, Moore said it’s important for the center to establish relationships with Harrisburg residents and neighborhood groups.
“It’s more than just those hard costs or tangible things of investment,” Moore said. “Are residents of Harrisburg taking advantage of the Kroc Center?”
According to Mason, the Kroc Center has made efforts to work with the area immediately surrounding the facility. A Harrisburg neighborhood association has established the center as its meeting place and another consortium plans to meet at the facility.
Marsha Jones, the director of St. Luke United Methodist Church on Crawford Avenue, met with Mason last fall. She said the center has been cooperative, offering use of its pool and some scholarships to neighborhood youths.
The Boys and Girls Club of the CSRA said its relationship with the Kroc Center dates to the facility’s planning stages. According to Kam Kyser, the executive director, the club has used only the Kroc Center’s aquatics facility but expects to refer families to the First Stop Center, a home for social service agencies.
Clay Boardman, a local businessman who operates Turn Back the Block, a nonprofit that renovates Harrisburg homes and establishes homeownership, said the Kroc Center brings a heightened awareness of the neighborhood and will lead to eventual revitalization.
“All of a sudden people become aware that Harrisburg is there,” he said “People who hadn’t been there for years and years and years are coming back.”
Moore agrees that foot traffic and overall increased activity have a huge impact on changing perceptions of an area.
“As the centers becomes a reason to draw people to Harrisburg, that’s a way it can become a stabilizing force,” she said.