Making room for Gold's Gym

KENNEWICK -- Charles Palmer can't wait to work up a sweat at the new Gold's Gym that's being prepared at the former Hastings location in Kennewick.

The new gym at the strip mall near West Clearwater Avenue and Highway 395 will be much bigger and better, said the former Boise resident.

"I'm used to that," Palmer said as he took a break during a recent workout at the current smaller Kennewick Gold's Gym in an adjacent space in the mall.

The $3 million Gold's project, which is expected to be completed by the middle of the year, will include a swimming pool, basketball and racquetball courts, a group exercise studio, space for cardio and weight training and a special area for kids' activities.

The 44,000-square-foot gym also will have a separate exercise area for women and a cardio room with a giant cinema screen, said Bill Roberts, the gym's general manager.

Cardio cinema is a new feature for the gym, Roberts said. It will allow people to watch new movies while they use cardio equipment. "We also can have video game tournaments there," he said.

The Gold's franchise is owned by a Utah-based company, which did market research that showed the Tri-Cities was one of the best markets to start a fitness center, said Roberts, who's previously managed three Gold's Gyms in Boise.

The Tri-City economy is strong and continues to grow, he said, adding that he expects the new gym to be well received. "We are providing the latest equipment and best trainers," he said. "There's a real positive buzz about the facility."

Roberts said although gym use is most popular among 18 to 34-year-olds, the gym is not targeting a specific group of people. He said more than half of his gym members are 45 and older, with more people today realizing that a healthy lifestyle is important with rising health care costs.

Palmer, who locked in a $20 monthly lifetime membership rate at Gold's as a local charter member, said he's looking forward to using the new center.

"I kind of bounced around gyms (before coming to Kennewick Gold's)," he said, explaining he changed because others didn't provide all the options he wanted.

While Palmer is excited about the new gym, other fitness centers say it may take a share of the market but think the market is growing enough to accommodate new competition.

The new facility could pull customers from other gyms, said Lisa Christensen, co-owner of Kia Ora fitness facility in Kennewick, which bills itself as a smaller, more intimate gym. "We are fairly confident we'll be OK," she said.

Kia Ora, which has been in business for more than 10 years, was the first gym in the Tri-Cities to introduce Les Mills group exercise programs, she said, adding, "(Tri-Citians) know we are the real deal."

Steve Wallenfels, marketing director for Tri-City Court Club in Kennewick, sees the new gym as a welcome addition to the area's competitive mix of health clubs in a growing market.

Founded in 1975, Tri-City Court Club is a 150,000-square-foot multipurpose health club.

Wallenfels said the entry of a new club in town can increase awareness about fitness and make other clubs examine the level of services they provide to customers. In the end, they all come out better and customers are better served, he said.

Wallenfels said his club's programs and ability to engage customers makes it stand apart from other health clubs. "Our focus is on family programming," he said. The club provides many value-added services like free day care while members use the facility, he said.

There are more than 40 health clubs fighting for chunks of market share in the Tri-Cities, said Randy Willis, general manager at Columbia Basin Racquet Club in Richland. But he doesn't expect the new Gold's gym to affect his club, which caters to the family market.

Willis said most clubs that have come in the last five years have targeted the younger population and have offered basic services at relatively cheaper prices. Others cater to specific parts of the market, such as women only or 24-hour facilities that cater to busy professionals.

But Willis, who co-owns the club with four other partners, said his club has seen membership grow in the last two years. He believes many of those new members wanted to upgrade after they got tired of simple cardio and weight routines at smaller clubs.

Columbia Basin Racquet Club, which started in 1981 and has been expanded and upgraded several times, is also a place where many come for socialization, Willis said.

"People don't like to exercise alone," he said.

Belonging to a health club is no longer a fad, said Willis. Today everyone knows regular exercise "is critical for wellness and longevity," he said.

"People who exercise are active, are much happier and healthier," he said.

Roberts of Gold's Gym agreed that gym membership has become a priority for many, even with the recession. A health club membership is among the last things someone looking to cut expenses will give up, he said.