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YMCA, Center Court memberships to allow access to both gyms

Beginning this fall, members of the YMCA and Center Court Fitness will be able to use the other facility for free. Beginning either Sept. 1 or Oct. 1, membership at one will mean access to the other at no additional charge. Membership will cost t...

Beginning this fall, members of the YMCA and Center Court Fitness will be able to use the other facility for free.

Beginning either Sept. 1 or Oct. 1, membership at one will mean access to the other at no additional charge. Membership will cost the same at both places, with the facilities evenly splitting the revenues.

The agreement emerged from talks between the two nonprofits to build a facility to replace the Grand Forks Park District-owned Center Court and improve the Y.

"Our two boards decided that if this was a good idea for the new facility, there was no reason to wait and we should go ahead now," said Cam Tweten, Center Court manager.

No other YMCA in the country has a similar partnership, said Debbie Thompson, the chief executive of the Grand Forks Y Family Center.

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Convenience is one of the arrangement's benefits. Center Court is on the southern edge of the Grand Forks while the downtown YMCA is close to the north end and East Grand Forks.

More programming is another plus. While both offer such exercise staples as racquetball courts, weight training and aerobic machines, each have options the other doesn't. Center Court has tennis courts, more personal trainers and is more geared to adults. The YMCA has a pool, a daycare center and more programming for children and families.

So, Center Court members now will be able to go swimming at the Y after dropping their children off at the day care. And YMCA members can play tennis and receive more fitness training.

Also, they'll coordinate programming, such as offering different activities during the prime times of early morning and early evening.

The facilities have done partnering test runs. Center Court is designated as the local provider for the Medicare-funded Silver Sneakers program. It helps pay for fitness club dues for seniors. Interest is so high that Center Court can't handle all of the traffic, so some partici-pants have been rerouted to the YMCA.

"We'll also be able to do marketing together and share each other staff's expertise," said John Staley, park district director. "The whole will be greater than the sum of the parts."

Partnership to remain

The dual membership will continue when Center Court is replaced by a new facility. The hope is to raise $27 million -- $22 million for a new facility, $4 million for YMCA improvements and $1 million for programming scholarships for low-income families.

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"My suggestion would be to build something initially that costs 60 to 70 percent of the pledges because we'll want a cushion of security," Staley said. "Because of deaths and other reasons, some pledges aren't fulfilled. We can add on later."

The Forks Area Health and Wellness Committee has landed verbal pledges of $17 million -- $9 million in contributions and $8 million in leased space to Altru and the Human Nutrition Lab.

The Grand Forks Community Foundation recently came onboard to provide consultation and leadership toward a goal of raising "$10 million by 10 donors." Efforts so far have been focused on potential major givers such as foundations and corporate sponsors.

A public fundraising effort could be announced as soon as August and a call for bids could be ready by January, Staley said.

Staley said the partnership with the YMCA has helped fundraising and not just because of Y supporters.

"The business community told us it was vital that we not compete against each other," Staley said. "They said the marketplace was not big enough to compete. If we were competing and one was withering away because of it, they didn't want to donate to that."

Added Tweten, "The feeling out there was that if one of us built new, the other one would be put out of business."

Memberships should rise

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Both facilities have issues. The YMCA is landlocked and can't expand. Center Court was built in the 1970s as a tennis facility and its age is showing, inside and out. Its latest repair need is a $750,000 roofing project.

Since the UND Wellness Center opened in 2006, Center Court's membership has suffered. Tweten said taxpayers have subsidized the facility for $300,000 during its 23 years of Park District ownership.

"The facility does not meet the needs of the community nowadays, with all of our baby boomers," Tweten said. "The facilities are outdated, with an especially big need for water products for seniors."

The two facilities combine for 3,000 members, with almost an even split. With improved facilities and more to offer, officials are anticipating 4,000 or even 5,000 members.

"We believe membership growth would be tremendous, from having state of the art equipment and facilities and from the excitement of something new," Tweten said. "We believe it will attract a lot of people who are not active now."

The plan is to build the facility with limited taxpayer support and operate it with zero taxpayer support. Board members are willing to use $140,000 of the annual $700,000 capital-and-betterment fund for construction. But revenues from memberships and sponsorships will cover operating expenses.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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