Cabanas with table service. A fire pit. A restaurant-lounge with music and TVs.
These aren’t the amenities at a destination resort. They’re some of the offerings at a new swim and social club set to open Memorial Day weekend in Broomall.
High school friends John McKenzie and Nick Reynolds have big plans for Splash Club LLC, a 12-acre property on the 2700 block of Sunset Boulevard that was formerly home to the Marple Newtown Swim Club. They call Splash’s vibe “the Hyatt meets the Hard Rock.” Delaware County, with swagger.
“At the old swim clubs, kids wanted to go to swim, but adults had nothing to do but sit in an upright chair and bake in the sun,” said Reynolds, 38, of Newtown Square. “It’s got to get with the times.”
As dozens of workers scurried around, placing plants by cabanas, working under a large pavilion, and scrubbing the bottom of an empty pool, Reynolds added: “This is going to be the spot to be in Delaware County.”
The pair said Splash’s opening will begin a new era for the region’s membership pools, one of luxury accommodations at an affordable price.
Leasing from Marple Township, Splash doesn’t require members to buy a bond. Seasonal dues range from $250 to $600. If you want a seasonal cabana with towel service, waitress service, and a reserved parking spot, that will cost an additional $2,500.
Reynolds and McKenzie, 40, of Broomall, said they sought inspiration from resorts in Jamaica and Miami, but hadn’t consulted with other local swim clubs.
Are their counterparts looking to add their own luxury amenities to keep up with the new competition? Are folks less excited by a no-frills pool membership than they once were?
Swim club officials and members said they were fiercely loyal to their clubs. For many, the appeal is the antithesis of Splash’s philosophy.
At Broomall’s Drexel Swim Club, less than two miles from Splash, board member Janice Meehan said she looks forward to Splash’s joining the community. But Drexel, with its simpler approach, hasn’t been hurting for members, she said.
“What we’re doing is working,” she said, "so we’re sticking to it.”
It recently added WiFi, but Meehan said she’d be against a video-game room like the one Splash is planning.
“We’re at the pool to get [the kids] out,” she said with a laugh. “It’s summer. Let them be a kid, run into the snack bar to get ice cream.”
For some parents, a swim club is as relaxing as it is nostalgic.
When she was growing up in Cherry Hill, said Michele Whipple, 53, she and her four siblings biked more than a mile to the Barclay Farm Swim Club every morning and spent the day there.
Now, Whipple and her 13-year-old daughter, Galina, drive from Havertown to the Knowlton and Hidden Hollow swim clubs at Media’s Linvilla Orchards.
“I just love it," she said. “It’s my happy place.”
AnnaMarie McCann, 37, of Newtown Square, said that, as a child, she spent summer days at Karakung Swim Club in Havertown. When her old pool, Marple Newtown Swim Club, closed in 2017, she found herself scrambling to find an affordable pool for her family, ultimately joining nearby Lawrence Park Swim Club.
“It wasn’t an option not to have one,” she said. “Summer wouldn’t be the same.”
“The devices are a huge issue," she said, “and anything I can do to get my children away from them is a great thing.”
Stefanie Heron-Birl, 46, a West Chester resident and member of the town’s Roslyn Swim Club, agreed.
“We joke that Roslyn is kind of stuck in 1955," she said. “You go to the pool and all you can do is either go in the pool or read a book.
“I think that appeals to a lot of people,” she added, “the simplicity of it.”
Karakung has also found great success in simplicity. The “no-frills” club, which requires that members live in Haverford Township, has a five-year waiting list, said president Sue Chupein.
“We haven’t necessarily had to reinvent ourselves,” she said. “It’s the basics of encouraging families to be together.”
Josh Kohn, president of St. Alban’s Swim & Tennis Club in Newtown Square, said that even in some of the most affluent communities, people are drawn to swim clubs because they’re “a bit of a throwback.”
“Our demographic is people who could be at a country club but don’t want to be,” he said. “They don’t want to wear a sports coat to lunch.”
In recent years, St. Alban’s dues have increased with pool maintenance costs, he said, and membership has declined 15 percent. As of last week, the club was 50 to 75 memberships short of capacity, Kohn said. The board is working to drive membership with small changes, such as healthier options at the snack bar, fitness classes, and popsicle giveaways for kids.
“We are not going to have cabanas and waitress service,” Kohn said. “That’s not something we want to provide.”
Rose Tree Woods Swim Club in Broomall isn’t looking to do that, either.
“I see no reason to do anything [Splash] has done so far,” said Rose Tree Woods’ president, Charlie Vanderslice. “We’re a great family pool.”
Over the years, he said, the philosophy hasn’t changed much.
“I want my kids outdoors, in the pools, playing mini-golf or basketball,” he said, “or lying in the grass with their friends, having a great time.”
Of course, children can do all of this at Splash, where there will be a playground, basketball court, and other traditional summer activities.
But they will have more options, too, including a room with Xbox and Nintendo consoles.
“Sometimes kids want to get out of the sun, get some down time,” Reynolds said.
“Why can’t kids get some air-conditioning?” McKenzie said.
Members will also be able to order locally sourced food from iPad-wielding servers and a kitchen powered by the West Chester-based Roots Cafe.
Reynolds and McKenzie said they’ve spent about $750,000 on the swim club. They are paying the township $1,500 a year in exchange for capital improvements, according to their five-year lease. As of last week, they said, memberships were still available.
They aren’t fazed by the fact that other pools have survived, some for more than a half-century, with a simpler model.
“The main thing that helps us is that they keep doing what they’re doing,” McKenzie said.