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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF @NWABENGOFF Visitors play basketball Wednesday at the Bentonville Community Center. The facility this month celebrated welcoming their one millionth visitor.

BENTONVILLE -- City officials knew the Bentonville Community Center would get a lot of use, but they didn't know just how much.

David Wright, Parks and Recreation director, recalled getting started on the center in 2009 when it was the city's largest infrastructure project at $16.1 million. He stood at the entrance and greeted the first users during the building's soft opening May 9, 2015.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF @NWABENGOFF Guests walk and run on the indoor track Wednesday at the Bentonville Community Center. The facility this month celebrated welcoming their one millionth visitor.

Community Center

The Bentonville Community Center is at 1101 S.W. Citizens Circle and is open seven days a week. For hours of operation or for more information, visit or call (479) 696-0200.

Source: Staff report

"My nerves were at an all-time high to make sure people would embrace it," he said.

The 5,200 memberships have exceeded the 3,300 a consultant said to expect, according to Wright.

On Nov. 13, green and white balloons created a festive atmosphere in the lobby.

"I knew something was going on but wasn't sure what and thought, 'Do I really want to walk in there,'" said Lee Wood, center member.

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Wood decided to go for it. He was trying to get to a fitness class on time. Center employees blew confetti as Wood walked through the entrance.

Wood was the 1 millionth guest.

"I asked them if I could have a dollar for each person who walked in before me," he laughed. "They said no."

Lee did receive a free family membership for a year, a $425 value.

"If someone had said you'll have 1 million visitors in 2 1/2 years, I think both David (Wright) and I would have said that's a pretty aggressive forecast," said Mayor Bob McCaslin. "The pent-up demand for something like this was far greater than we anticipated."

For comparison, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which draws visitors from across the country and globe, had 1 million guests during the 21 months after it opened Nov. 11, 2011.

The 80,000-square-foot community center has a family leisure pool and a 25-yard competitive pool, a fitness center, dance and aerobics studio, gymnasium, indoor running track, community rooms, an arts and craft room, child watch area, senior activity center and lounge area. The Public Library also has a mini branch at the center.

There have been 388,631 visits to the center so far this year, with an average daily attendance of 1,328, according to Parks and Recreation.

Nearly 15,000 have used the community rooms during the 386 room rentals this year. Nearly 53,000 have participated in wellness classes and almost 5,000 swim lessons given.

The Kids Center has kept an eye on more than 33,000 children ages 6 months to 10 years while their parents use the amenities. That averages 125 children a day.

Wood uses the facility five days a week. He goes to a midday fitness class Monday, Wednesday, Friday and plays pick-up basketball Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"I guess I could credit them for losing 40 pounds," he said.

Parks and Recreation officials have been working to build out Citizens Park, the 24 acres around the building, since it opened. Three multipurpose fields with a restroom and concession facility are to the building's southeast and Citizens Park Trail -- a 1-mile hard-surface trail -- loops around the grounds.

The pavilion under construction on the property's northwest end should be finished about the new year, which leaves a 12-court tennis complex and an all-inclusive playground to be completed.

Next year's city budget includes $1.3 million for the tennis complex. Construction could start in the first half of next year, Wright said.

The playground, which will be accessible to children of differing abilities, may come to fruition late next year or in 2019 as officials raise money and seek grants for the $750,000 project.

Several groups helped pay for the $16.1 million center. The Walton Family Foundation donated $2 million. Bentonville Public Schools, The Walmart Foundation, Community Care Foundation and Advertising and Promotion Commission gave $1 million each. The city paid for the rest through money saved and bond money.

Wright said he carries a sense of pride about the center, knowing all the work it took to open and how his team has operated it since. He appreciates those who use and enjoy it.

"This facility is helping us achieve the mission of our department, which is to enhance the lives of those in our community," he said.

NW News on 11/24/2017

Print Headline: Bentonville Community Center hits 1 million visits

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