Nicki Bridgland laughs when she remembers an online yoga class her friend taught on New Year’s Day: “When she said ‘pivot your left foot’ I just felt like ‘enough! No more pivots!’” Bridgland is the founder and CEO of the Rideau Sports Centre, an open-to-the-public sports and wellness facility located on the Overbrook side of the Adàwe Crossing. Her same sentiments are likely shared by business owners across Ottawa after a tumultuous year of COVID-19 restrictions.
“It has been a wild ride and a rollercoaster of emotions and logistics,” describes Bridgland of the pandemic so far. “While that has been tiring, it’s also been really exciting in a strange way because it’s sharpened our innovation and creativity.”
With a staff of 70 and more than a half-dozen lines of business—from tennis courts to outdoor and indoor dining; personal fitness training to group sports—the RSC team had to stay on top of the nuances that accompanied each new public health restriction. That demanded on-the-go problem solving, and yes, plenty of pivots.
For one, its bar and restaurant, The Bridge Public House, installed electric heaters on the terrace so diners could eat there year-round. And the addition of five outdoor fire pits—an idea once imagined for down the road—became a popular gathering spot for those looking to socialize safely with friends and family. A portion of each fire pit booking goes to the Rideau Winter Trail [see IMAGE February-March 2021, page 7] of which Bridgland is a board member and founder.
Outdoor yoga and fitness classes, along with altered summer programming and a new advanced booking system, capped off the RSC’s major 2020 changes.
Despite these new customer experiences, Bridgland says there’s no denying the business took a hit financially, because of the lockdown closures. RSC fortunately qualified for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy for a period of time, as well as rent assistance and other business loans.
While she’s grateful for the government support, Bridgland says she wishes it had been more: “For a four-acre property, the support never feels like enough because there are so many carrying costs for RSC. If you imagine heat and electricity for two tennis domes, plus a 17,000 square foot building: all of those costs continue even if there’s no revenue coming in.”
Now that RSC has re-opened, with limited capacity and several health and safety guidelines in place, Bridgland is seeing some interesting business shifts, especially as the weather continues to warm.
Working from home has meant people can dash over for a midday workout, or drop their kids off for a tennis lesson, during the time when they may have previously been stuck commuting. On a mild Monday in March, Bridgland points to the fact that 12 fire pit bookings were made that day. “The traditional peak times aren’t the same anymore, and it has distributed business throughout the week,” she notes.
Though a lot has changed over this past year, one element Bridgland has seen maintained, and even strengthened by the pandemic, is the yearning people have for community.
“We’re coming back to simpler roots where people just want to connect and have some good, home-grown fun,” she says. “A place like this really enables people of all ages to do that in a safe way.”
The Rideau Sports Centre operates on a pay-as-you-play model and doesn’t require a membership. For more information about their facilities and programs, visit www.rideausportscentre.com.
Here is what’s happening at the RSC this spring and summer, pending COVID-19 guidelines:
• Outdoor tennis on clay courts will begin as near to May 1 as possible, weather dependent; indoor tennis continues throughout the summer. All courts can be booked by the hour. Also available are tennis programs, ladders, round robins. All skill levels welcome, including beginners.
• Outdoor beach volleyball and ball hockey courts will be opened. Courts can be booked by the hour.
• Full-day kids summer camps, multi-sport, and dedicated sport options with daily swims.
• Drop-in swimming pool with dedicated times for Aquafit, lessons, lap swim, playful swim.
• Master’s Morning Swim Program coached by Pierre Lafontaine, former National Team Director at Swim Canada.
• Outdoor, indoor, and online yoga and fitness classes.
• Personal fitness and yoga training.
• Renovated fitness centre with new equipment.
• Wednesday night live music on the upper deck of the Bridge Public House overlooking the Rideau River.
• Community markets with local makers.