Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Park Districts Bulk Up Public Fitness Centers

“The new Fitness Station in West Chicago boasts many of the features of a private health club: Aerobics classes keep people sweating to the latest music; cardio machines have screens with built-in video games; T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Fit Happens’ are for sale at the front desk. But the 10,000-square-foot facility, which opened Jan. 3, isn't run by a national fitness chain or even local health-conscious entrepreneurs. It's the latest offering from the park district. ‘We see the value of keeping the community in the community,’ said Nicole Walker, marketing director for the West Chicago Park District. ‘Our goal is to keep it local.’ West Chicago's foray into the world of workouts is one that many communities have made in recent years. In Elmhurst, the park district recently upgraded its fitness facility to include granite counters and automatic soap dispensers in the restrooms. In Oak Brook, members of the Premiere Fitness Club can get massages, free towels after workouts and coffee from an on-site cafe. Downers Grove residents enjoy personal TV screens on cardio equipment. ‘If you look around at surrounding communities, every park district has a fitness facility—and if not, they're trying to get one,’ said Susan Nance, fitness manager for the Downers Grove Park District Fitness Center. ‘It's trying to meet the needs of the community.’ A desire for healthier living is behind the trend, park district officials say. Until recently, most park districts could get away with a small exercise room with a rowing machine and a stationary bike for the handful of interested residents. Today, even residents with basic knowledge of a gym expect top-notch equipment and trendy group exercise classes, they said. ‘I don't think the demand was there 15 years ago,’ said Shirell Mollo, director of communications and marketing for the Oak Brook Park District. ‘Now this is something that people really desire.’ There's been growth in the number of health clubs nationally. In 1982, there were about 6,000 health clubs listed in Yellow Page directories across the country. By 2007, that number had jumped to 30,000, according to Kara Thompson, spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. So far, Thompson said, the private health club industry does not feel threatened by the increase in park district workout facilities. ‘There's a place for every type and genre of club, every niche and style in every given area,’ she said. Park district facilities ’definitely breed a healthy competition.’ Use of the park district facilities varies. In Oak Brook, for example, the majority of the 1,500 people who belong to the fitness center also have memberships at private gyms. Those residents often work out at the Oak Brook facility while their children participate in park district programs, said Joe Nidea, manager of the Premiere Fitness Club.”,0,6798649.story

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