If we build a fitness center, will they come?
The Grand Forks Park Board rolled out its plans for a fitness center last week. The project gets an enthusiastic endorsement here -- with a few cautionary notes. Let's start with the endorsement. This is more than a fitness center. Rather it is a...
The Grand Forks Park Board rolled out its plans for a fitness center last week.
The project gets an enthusiastic endorsement here -- with a few cautionary notes.
Let's start with the endorsement.
This is more than a fitness center. Rather it is a unique and far-sighted effort to make Grand Forks a healthier place. This is an important goal in any community. In Grand Forks, it is urgent, because the community has several chronic health problems: obesity, diabetes and alcohol abuse among them.
Fitness fights them all.
More than that, however, the Park Board's project aims to bring fitness, medicine and research together in one place. Altru Health System has agreed to lease space in the center, and UND's Human Nutrition Lab will be represented on site, too.
This means two things, both visionary.
Co-location of medical and fitness facilities will give patients immediate access to rehabilitative activities.
The research facility on site will provide a pool of real-time, real-life subjects for researchers. They expect to learn a great deal about nutrition and fitness as ways to fight conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression.
No other community has such a facility -- not anywhere in the United States.
So, this project projects Grand Forks into the national spotlight, retaining a spot it gained with the heroic recovery from the 1997 flood.
Now for the cautionary notes:
Supporters of the project have had great success in finding private donors to launch the project, and they boast that no new taxes will be needed to build it.
We're for that, of course, but no new taxes isn't the same as no taxes at all. The Park Board has allocated a full million -- 20 percent of its annual tax revenue - to the facility. This could mean leaner funding for other Park Board projects.
To launch the research part of the plan, backers are counting on an earmark in the 2011 federal budget. The earmark is likely, given the influence of the state's congressional delegation -- but it's not certain.
At this point, the project is between $4 million and $6 million short of the $27 million needed to build the facility. Plans are to raise this from local donors. So far, fundraising has been brisk, indicating a broad level of support for the project.
But what happens if the fund drive falls short?
One more key element of the plan relies on the fund drive. That's the plan to improve the Y Family Center. The Y provides facilities in the heart of the city whereas the proposed center is at the far south end of town. The Y is private and not eligible for any tax money.
This is of more than casual importance, because support on the north end would be crucial if funding for the project ever came to a public vote. That possibility came up during meetings last week.
The Park Board hopes no election is necessary -- no new taxes, remember.
But one part of the plan seems shaky and may require intervention at some point, if not to build the center then to keep it going.
Plans are to provide operating funds from memberships, and supporters of the center point out that a far smaller percentage of Grand Forks' population belongs to public fitness facilities than in other North Dakota cities, including Minot, Bismarck and Dickinson.
Their expectation is that a great new facility will attract more members -- as indeed it should. We'd be more comfortable if there were better evidence for that outcome.
Probably if we build it, they will come. Probably it's worth the risk, since this will be a stupendous facility.
But certainly, it's worth a clear-eyed consideration of what might happen if they don't.