VIDEO: Choice Health & Fitness aims to provide all needs for all agesWhen Choice Health & Fitness opens Tuesday, it will bear no resemblance to the facility it is replacing, Center Court Fitness.
By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald
When Choice Health & Fitness opens Tuesday, it will bear no resemblance to the facility it is replacing, Center Court Fitness.
“We’re going from a tennis club built in the 1970s to a large, multi-purpose facility able to provide services to all ages and all needs,” said Cam Tweten, the manager of both buildings. “There’s no comparison.”
Size may be the first difference people notice. The two-story facility has 161,000 square feet, triple the size of Center Court. That statistic understates the space contrast since five tennis courts took up more than half of Center Court’s space and its six courts at Choice comprise only 22 percent of the area.
While there is more space and the vast majority of the fitness equipment is new and cutting edge, the major addition is water. Choice has a lap pool, a regular pool, water slides, and a zero-depth entry pool for younger children.
Sprouts, a cafe that specializes in healthy fare, greets you as you walk through the main doors of Choice. The cafe also is open to non-members.
Once inside, perfectly placed rows of state-of-the-art exercise equipment line the walls and floor space. A single treadmill in this new facility cost the Park District more than $5,000, which might sound like a lot until you realize each is equipped with its very own computer screen for access to the Internet or email. Throughout the building you’ll find the signature look of sophisticated dark wood — even in the locker rooms.
There are basketball courts, tennis courts and racquetball courts. There are four group fitness rooms, a child care facility and even a teen-centered activity room where exercise machines meet Xbox machines — and to make the video games play, you must peddle.
If it sounds high-end, that’s because it is. This $23million, publicly owned health club hasn’t cut corners since work began on the sprawling South Washington land 13 months ago.
Yet no public money has been spent so far on the project, according to Park District officials. That’s how they hope to keep it.
How do they plan to achieve that? Members. And a lot of them.
The land itself was donated in the fall of 2009 by Crary Real Estate — 42 acres to be exact — and is valued between $3 million to $4 million. The naming rights from sponsorships and leases landed $27 million — $23.8 million going to Choice and $3.2 million to the Altru Y Family Center. Choice Financial is paying $2.75 million for the naming rights to the center, while Altru is paying $5 million for the 42-acre site that is named Altru Wellness Village. Altru also has its name on the Y for a $1.5 million donation for improvements. A membership at either the Y or Choice is also good at the other facility.
Every Choice room, including locker rooms, has a sponsor name on it. Bridges and parking lots also carry names, as does the waterway that cuts across the property. It’s named Duster Creek, after the Acme Electric dog mascot.
It’s a far cry from Center Court, which in recent years struggled to maintain its membership base amid competition in the market, namely from UND with its own new wellness center that’s available at no cost to students.
Still, officials say they aren’t concerned that the new facility might be too large of a financial undertaking, despite the fact that taxpayers would be on the line for the health club should it not live up to its expectations.
All along, the message to the public has been that no new taxes will be needed for the new facility. That’s still the plan, Tweten said.
“Our projected revenue for 2013 is $2.5 million, and our projected expense is $2.2 million,” Tweten said. “We figure the first year will be the toughest one because we’ll still be building up memberships.”
If projections are met, the $300,000 profit will go to help pay off the interest on the sponsorships and leases, which will be paid in installments, not in a lump sum. The two biggest donations are being paid over 25 years, while the rest are over 10 years or less.
The business plan anticipates a steady climb in memberships. Of the 85,000 people estimated to live within a 15-mile radius, consultants said to expect memberships from 15 percent of them. That would amount to 12,000 people, which computes to 6,000 to 8,000 memberships.
Choice will need to grow memberships because its expenses will increase, most notably because of going from 60 employees to 150. Tweten said the past 12 months of expenses at Center Court were $1.3 million, compared with the $2.2 million anticipated at Choice.
The Park Board has dedicated one mill of its property tax levy, now valued at $145,000, to Choice each year. It’s not a tax increase for homeowners, but the money would be used for other purposes without the designation.
Calling all members
Ultimately, memberships will be the driving force in the center’s future financial stability.
Tweten said the business plan calls for 5,000 combined shared memberships between Altru Y Family Center Choice by the end of 2013 to provide the necessary revenue. He said that combined memberships last week were at about 4,000, with 1,000 of them added in the past month.
Altru gave a big boost to Choice when it offered its 3,000 local employees discounted memberships.
According to Brad Wehe, Altru chief operating officer, the plan works this way: Any Altru employee can buy a family membership for $33 a month. If the employee works out 12 times over a month, Altru will refund $20 of that $33.
“Our primary motivator is that we want a very healthy workforce,” Wehe said. “Research says that if your employees are healthy, they’re more productive, efficient and happy.
“It also fits in nicely with what our mission is,” he said. “We should be leading by example. Third, we want to support the facility and its programming.”
Wehe said Altru’s goal is to have half of its employees sign up for the deal. By the end of last week, 800 had done so. Tweten said he’s attempting to make deals with other major employers, but cautions that he can’t offer the same discounted rate that he has to Altru, a major sponsor and contributor to Choice.
For all others, monthly membership costs will increase slightly compared to Center Court. Individual memberships will go from $50 to $53, family memberships from $68 to $73, and about a 5 percent hike in other membership categories. A membership covers everything except child care, tennis court time and individual instruction such as swimming lessons or a personal trainer. A two-hour day care visit costs $3 for one child and $5 for two or more. Day care while parents worked out at Center Court was free.
The monthly dues at Courts Plus, the Fargo Park District’s more modest facility, are $44 for singles and $76 for families.
The great outdoors
Much of the focus during the construction phase has been on the inside of the new building. But exercise won’t be limited to that space.
The 42 acres of what’s known as Altru Wellness Village, the area surrounding the fitness center, will be sprinkled with other activities.
The property has a creek available for canoeing and kayaking. By next summer, the grounds also will have six outdoor tennis courts, eight sand volleyball courts, a youth climbing structure and a splash park for young children.
A $7 million, a two-rink arena for youth hockey and skating on the south end of the property also is planned. The Judd Sondreal family has donated $500,000 in his memory for naming rights to one of the two rinks. It will be known as “The Judd.” The Ralph and Betty Engelstad Foundation also has donated $500,000.
The Park District is seeking a $2 million naming rights donor for the arena and $500,000 for the other rink. Naming rights also are available for locker rooms, the lobby, a community room and the concession stand.
Gary Harris, the district foundation’s development director, said an agreement for the arena sponsor may be announced soon.
“We will get over a big hurdle if we get the main naming sponsor because that will give us a lot of momentum,” Harris said. “We’re doing this with community philanthropy, so we have to get it all done before we start moving dirt.”
The Blue Line Club has pledged $2.5 million toward the arena, which will hold youth hockey tournaments. The hockey boosters’ money is a matching grant, meaning $2.5 million needs to be raised before accessing the club’s money.
The south-end site also will have two outdoor pleasure rinks.
Another possibility for the property is a sports dome that would provide the likes of an indoor driving range, soccer fields, a track, playground and batting cages. That idea is in its early stages.
“The community has helped us and the Y bring forward two facilities to create great opportunities for all ages,” Tweten said. “They will provide a greater quality of life for many people.”
Open house Tuesday
• 3 p.m.: Ribbon-cutting, speeches
• 4 to 7 p.m.: Building tours, exercise demonstration classes, complimentary food and beverages
• 7 p.m.: Fireworks
• Address: 4401 Eleventh St. S.
• Telephone: (701) 746-2790
• Business hours: 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
• Website: www.choicehf.com
Call Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send email to email@example.com.