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Workout war waged between city and private fitness centres

What is seen as a boon to the health of Whitehorse citizens has become a drag to private fitness centres in the city. Four years after the opening of the Canada Games Centre, Jim Oster of Better Bodies Crosstraining Centre,

What is seen as a boon to the health of Whitehorse citizens has become a drag to private fitness centres in the city.

Four years after the opening of the Canada Games Centre, Jim Oster of Better Bodies Crosstraining Centre, believes his business is suffering from direct competition with the city-subsidized recreation facility.

“I’ve lost 30 per cent of my membership, it’s a significant amount of revenue,” said Oster.

“And it’s taxpayers’ money financing this competition.”

Jessyca Gutt is a prime example of someone who was wooed away from private fitness facilities. She says she left Curves Fitness to join the Canada Games Centre two years ago because the membership package there was more attractive.

A one-month membership at the Canada Games Centre costs $47.40 compared to $76 monthly at Curves and $57.75 a month at Better Bodies.

“I went to Curves for a one-month trial but they want you to commit for the year and they have high service fees that you have to pay regardless,” she said.

Gutt now heads to the Canada Games Centre two to three times a week for Pilates and aerobics classes. She says the centre is more “flexible and user-friendly than other gyms.”

She falls directly into the demographic that is being bled from gyms like Oster’s.

Fifty-eight per cent of the people walking into Better Bodies are females between the age of 35 and 40, said Oster.

“The city has steadfastly said they’re not interested in attracting private fitness centre demographics but they

have no idea what my demographic is—I think they think it’s a bunch of young kids lifting weights.”

Oster has appealed to council and city management several times hoping to strike a compromise between the city’s interests and those of private business.

“Since day one the city told us point blank they were only interested in attracting people who were dropping off their kids for other activities,” said Oster.

“But since then they’ve increased services, and every time I’ve questioned them on it, they’ve denied it.”

The Games Centre doesn’t specifically try to attract any one group, said Art Manhire, associate manager of the centre’s indoor facilities.

“When we talk about the Canada Games Centre, it’s not just a recreation facility, it’s a social and cultural facility,” he said.

They do see a lot of parents who are dropping their kids off for other activities, as well as seniors who have never been to a fitness facility before.

“A lot of people that come here are people that wouldn’t go to private centres,” said Eliza Pahl, a fitness specialist at the Canada Games Wellness Centre.

“It’s intimidating to go into a private gym, not only if you’re older, but especially for people new to healthy lifestyles,” said Pahl.

It’s not the number of machines or types of classes that attract people to the Games Centre, said Pahl.

“There’s nothing specific here that other places don’t have—it’s just the vibe, it’s how people feel when they’re walking into a building.”

Barb Evans-Ehricht and her husband Mark have been going to the Canada Games Centre Wellness Centre for the last two years.

They have three children who go swimming or play soccer while they work out in the gym, an activity they say is “incredibly important.”

“It’s the city’s responsibility to give citizens opportunities to maintain their health,” said Barb.

“It’s a wise, proactive choice that benefits the city in the long-term.”

In the Evans-Ehricht’s opinion, the health of a population is a public concern. They don’t have a problem with the city subsidizing 50 per cent of the budget of the Canada Games Centre.

“I wouldn’t want to see the (private fitness centres) put out of business. If they want to compete they have to find ways by offering different services,” said Barb.

“Private places need to find their niche. The niche (at the Wellness Centre) is for families and for seniors that have never exercised before.”

But it is the duplication of services that pushes people to the Wellness Centre, especially if these services are offered at a cut-rate price, said Oster.

“The Wellness Centre now offers body composition testing, which is bread-and-butter for our personal trainer and they offer it far below market value,” he said.

The Wellness Centre is also about to add new machines to its roster of fitness equipment, a decision that Councillor Doug Graham believes will boost the flagging business.

“Membership at the Canada Games Centre was declining until last month. I think it’s the impetus for the Canada Games staff bringing in new equipment,” he said.

Graham decided to take the issue up after Oster again appealed council.

“Every one of the (fitness) centres I’ve talked to has experienced a substantial decline in membership,” said Doug Graham.

“You don’t use taxpayers’ dollars to put private business out of business. It’s just not acceptable.”

Contact Vivian Belik at