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Opening of new Frances Meadows fitness center raises questions

Local private facilities face issue of competition

POSTED: January 2, 2014 12:06 a.m.

While members of the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center might be pleased with the addition of a new fitness center, neighboring fitness facilities are not.

The center, operated by Gainesville Parks and Recreation, opened a 4,400-square-foot fitness area on Dec. 2 in its former meeting room. The fitness center includes equipment using touch-screen and Wi-Fi technology as well as cardio and strength-training equipment.

Melvin Cooper, director of Gainesville Parks and Recreation, said members of the aquatic center have been asking for the fitness center since the facility opened in 2008.

“It was in direct response to those requests and our patrons and area residents about getting that started,” Cooper said.

The center first attempted to open a fitness room in 2009 but was met with opposition from local private fitness centers that said they felt the agency would create unfair competition and hurt their businesses. At the time, representatives from three fitness centers, Georgia Mountains YMCA, Fitness Forum and Bodyplex in Gainesville asked Gainesville City Council not to move forward with plans for a new center.

Plans for the fitness center were ultimately put aside in 2010 for economic reasons.

In April 2013, Gainesville City Council approved the agency’s annual budget of $1.2 million. The $375,000 earmarked for the conversion of a meeting room into the fitness center was taken from the center’s fund balance revenue.

Cooper said the center is “pretty much complete as it is now” and costs were kept under budget at $325,000. The equipment costs were $284,000. The room is staffed by existing part-time staff members.

Cooper said the hope is for the room to eventually cover its own costs.

“Right now the fitness center is covering about 68 to 70 percent of its operational costs,” Cooper said. “Which is unheard of when you look at aquatic centers around the state. Most of them only cover 50 percent of their operational costs, and we’re well ahead of that.”

Cooper said he hasn’t received any negative response since opening the fitness room but said he feels the additional equipment will benefit existing members and young swimmers who need to augment their training.

He said the center is having a “slow opening” to give existing members a chance to try out the equipment they’ve been asking for before new members join.

“We basically feel like there is enough population in the county to do this,” Cooper said. “Particularly after the Hall County Parks and Leisure Services opened their fitness centers and their community centers serving their target areas.”

North Hall Park opened off Nopone Road in Gainesville at the end of 2012 and features a fitness center, aerobic classes, basketball courts and sports fields.

Frank Simpson, Georgia Mountains YMCA board member, said the organization opposes the fitness room based on an agreement the YMCA and aquatics center made when both were being built.

Simpson said the YMCA attempted unsuccessfully to work out an agreement with the city to build one facility with a public-private partnership. Both facilities featured similar amenities, including a large outdoor pool at the YMCA and the fitness room inside the aquatics center.

Simpson said an agreement was made to not build the swimming pool in exchange for the center forgoing the fitness room.

“They did what they wanted to do,” Simpson said. “They did it regardless of what they had agreed to in the past, and we’ll move on. We’re doing fine.”

Simpson said the YMCA has a “full family-oriented facility that doesn’t live and die by (its) fitness center” but expressed concern for local businesses in the fitness industry.

“The fitness centers here in town that are private industry and are bringing in tax dollars into our community are now in competition with the government,” Simpson said. “That was the whole issue from the beginning.”

Attempts to reach Fitness Forum and Bodyplex were unsuccessful.


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