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Ceraland faces price for fiscal freedom

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Cummins Inc. employees and retirees will have to start paying annual membership fees of $250 and up to enter the Ceraland recreational facility next year.

“No one wants to pay for what they were getting for free; but if the park is going to be sustainable going forward, you can’t give away your product,” said Scott Boatwright, a Ceraland board member and Cummins’ executive director of global facilities and real estate.

“We think the solution we have is entirely fair and fits within the market pretty well,” he said. “If our retirees are expecting free, that price is probably a little too low.”

Ceraland, a 50-year-old, 345-acre recreational facility with camping, ball diamonds, boating and more, was created in the early 1960s by Cummins’ then-chairman J. Irwin Miller.

The beginning of its name comes from an acronym, Cummins Employees Recreation Association.

For many years, Ceraland was funded in large part via vending and cafeteria revenues from the Columbus-based engine maker’s plants and offices. But that funding model has grown out of date as Cummins has expanded into a multibillion-dollar global business.

“This wasn’t the model we wanted going forward,” Boatwright said.

Ceraland will have to run on its own, charge fees that are competitive with other parks and fitness centers and become self-sustaining, he said.

“We’re not in the recreational park business,” Cummins spokesman Jon Mills said. “From a corporate responsibility perspective, we always want the community partners we work with to become sustainable operations on their own.”

Many Cummins retirees and longtime employees see the switch as harsh.

“This is too bad. The fees are probably going to stop a lot of retirees from coming and enjoying the park,” said Cummins’ retiree Jorge Morales, who serves as president of the County Council in Bartholomew County.

John Youngblood, a 72-year-old Cummins retiree who leads a 5 a.m. fitness class for seniors many mornings at Ceraland, said he will look for a less-expensive venue for his exercise regimen and other activities.

“I’m pretty sure a lot of people will have other opportunities that won’t cost them as much,” said Youngblood, who retired in 2001.

Jim Kreutzjans, Ceraland general manager, said the park might lose up to half its Cummins members in the short run, but Ceraland officials hope to recoup membership over the long haul by drawing more interest from the general public.

The park has been used primarily by Cummins’ employees in the area, which today represent nearly 8,000 people, and about 3,000 retirees.

Annual attendance has been running between 120,000 and 150,000, officials said. The park also has hosted softball and baseball tournaments and special events such as each fall’s “Cummins Come Home Rally” for RV owners whose vehicles are powered by Cummins’ engines.

New prices will be as follows for annual passes that include a patron’s entire family:

Cummins employees and retirees can buy family memberships for $250 (roughly $20.85 per month) from now until

May 1; then the price kicks up to $375 for one year ($31.25 per month). Members get unlimited access to selected features at the park, including the aquatic center, fitness center, mini-golf, rifle range and boat rentals, as well as discounted fees for camping.

There will also be a $375 per year corporate rate per family. Currently, the park has more than 80 corporations that offer their employees a chance to get Ceraland passes. Kreutzjans said Ceraland hopes to increase that number.

A family with no Cummins or special corporate connection to Ceraland will pay $500 a year ($42 per month) for access to the park.

People who don’t want memberships can pay $2 per head to enter Ceraland on a day pass. The visitors would pay extra for whatever services they use.

Bill Crase of Columbus, who retired in 1987, said he used to go to Ceraland occasionally but stopped renewing his free annual retiree’s pass about two years ago.

“We don’t use it much any more,” Crase said. “I’m kind of amazed they stuck that kind of price tag on it.”

Youngblood said he takes his grandchildren to Ceraland on occasion and also does trap shooting there. He said his membership in AARP probably will lead him to some other recreational options for seniors that don’t cost as much as the new Ceraland fees.

“It will be a big hit for a lot of people,” he said.

Mills and Kreutzjans said the switch in Ceraland’s strategy has been three years in the making and comes after a 2011 agreement between the engine maker and the Ceraland board to wean the park off Cummins’ financial help. The park has more than a $1 million annual operating budget.

Cummins employees and retirees were notified by letter and email of the new setup on Thursday.

“Our vision is CERA (as the new park will be rebranded in marketing materials) will be the highest-quality recreation and wellness provider in our community,” says the letter signed by the CERA board.

“We’ve made a lot of good progress,” Boatwright said. “But the bottom line is Ceraland never really tried to grow outside the Cummins employee base in the past. Now, the model is changing and the park is responding well.”

Mills said Cummins tried to prepare Ceraland by making total contributions of roughly $1 million over the past three years, which he described as final installments in corporate financial assistance.

Kreutzjans said a new CERA website will be unveiled around Jan. 15 that will allow patrons to sign up for memberships, review offerings and the park and make reservations for camp sites among other things. The park has also hired a full-time marketing professional.

A master plan for the park has been crafted with help from Indiana University’s Eppley Institute, an outreach program for parks, recreation and land management.

The message to the community is: “Give us a chance to be your wellness facility,” Kreutzjans said. “We’re not going to be the quiet one anymore.”

About 85 to 90 percent of the park’s revenue used to come from funds Cummins collected through its vending machines. By 2011, that share had declined to 15 percent, and now the park gets no vending funds at all.

Kreutzjans said Ceraland is looking at ways to boost revenue by further increasing services. The latest project under consideration: an indoor turf facility to target the indoor soccer, baseball, football, cricket and lacrosse circuit so those sports can be played year-round.

“We’re not the most conveniently located if you’re interested in a 15-minute workout,” the general manager acknowledged, “but we’ll be affordable, and we want to be a facility for the whole community. We want to overcome the stigma that we’re Cummins only.”

The park is located about 7 miles from downtown Columbus.

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