Fruita’s new facility unfair competition, critics charge
Less than a month after opening its doors, the Fruita Community Center has sold so many memberships and drummed up so much drop-in business that managers will extend operations on Friday evenings by two hours, open the pool on weekday afternoons and hire additional staff.
But some say the success of the $13.7 million, taxpayer-funded facility has come at the expense of the privately run Fruita Health Club.
A storm that had been brewing quietly the last few weeks erupted Tuesday night at the Fruita City Council meeting when employees and supporters of the Fruita Health Club lashed out at the city, accusing it of improperly competing with the private sector to the point that it could force the club to close. They asked the city to make concessions at the Community Center to keep that from happening.
“What’s happening here is a bad deal, for the city of Fruita and its reputation, and for the Fruita City Council,” Michelle Melgares, a club member and a member of the Fruita Chamber of Commerce board of directors, told council members. “I’m disappointed that my tax dollars are going to put a gym out of business.”
City leaders say they don’t want to see the Fruita Health Club fail. But they insist they have been honest and forthright since the beginning about the types of amenities the Community Center would contain. They say the facility reflects what residents wanted when they approved a 1 percent sales tax in 2008 to fund the construction and operation of the center.
“I would venture to guess that the vast majority of people believe we delivered exactly what we said we would,” City Manager Clint Kinney said. “We delivered what we promised.”
Formerly known as the Fruita Fitness Center, the Fruita Health Club has been operating at 158 South Park Square since the 1990s. Brooke Ray, her husband, Trent, and her mother, Susan Allen, purchased the business in December 2009, the club’s fifth different ownership group.
Ray said the group has worked hard since then to improve customer service and equipment, two problems she says plagued the club previously. She claims those efforts have paid off.
In the first three months of operation, Ray said, the club increased the number of aerobics classes from seven a week to seven a day. In the first six months, it boosted the number of paid staff from eight to 27. A total of 584 members joined the club in 2010, nearly doubling membership to 1,200.
Then the Community Center opened. Ray said the Fruita Health Club has lost 40 percent of its members since then.
About 20 people, including Ray, spent about an hour Tuesday night lodging their concerns with the council and questioning the city’s commitment to small businesses.
“I didn’t vote for Brooke to stay awake every night wondering how long her business is going to survive,” club member Jamey Smith said.
Aspen Street Coffee owner Tom Hinman said the Community Center has disrupted his business, too, claiming Fruita Health Club members often dropped in for coffee after a workout. He said business has fallen 30 percent.
Ray said Wednesday her family supported the Community Center’s creation and read the feasibility study that referred to a “small fitness center” within the facility. She said she was satisfied with what she said were repeated assertions by Kinney that the Community Center wouldn’t compete with the Fruita Health Club.
But after touring the Community Center herself and seeing the fitness equipment and classes offered, she said those features put the Community Center in direct competition with the Fruita Health Club. And she believes the city misled her, whether it was intentional or not.
Kinney, though, disputes that. He noted the fitness center is actually 600 square-feet smaller and contains three fewer stations and machines than what the feasibility study anticipated.
Mayor Ken Henry said construction on the Community Center started before the Rays and Allen purchased the club, suggesting they had ample time and opportunity to learn about the facility and its features and make adjustments.
“I don’t want to be particularly critical, but anyone who is going to go into a business needs to do some due diligence about what they’re going up against. And I don’t think they did that,” he said.
The mayor also suggested the club hasn’t done a good job of advertising itself.
Henry said during a visit to the Community Center two weeks ago he talked with six men who were waiting in line to use the weight-lifting bench. He said they asked why the Community Center didn’t have more benches. When he told them that wasn’t the purpose of the center and it didn’t want to compete with the Fruita Health Club, only one of the men knew the club existed.
Ray said she has asked the city to cancel some of its more advanced fitness classes that directly compete with the club. She also wants the city to allow people to buy a pool-only pass so residents who are more interested in using fitness equipment will consider the club. Currently, the Community Center’s all-inclusive pricing structure doesn’t separate use of the pool from the center’s other features.
Henry acknowledged the council is concerned the city could be competing with the club, and he is willing to consider the club’s pool-only pass suggestion.
But he and Kinney said the city also has to honor its commitment and responsibility to the 2,500 current Community Center pass-holders and provide the services that come with the purchase of those passes.
“The whole idea is there is a balancing act between providing services that people have obviously responded to that either weren’t being offered before or were being offered in a way that didn’t satisfy them,” Henry said.