Jeramey Jannene

Can Downtown Milwaukee Support a 24-Hour Gym?

By - Jan 24th, 2011 11:26 pm
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Downtown Milwaukee is blessed with four full-service, affordable fitness centers. The Wisconsin Athletic Club, Downtown YMCA, Bally Total Fitness, and newcomer Gold’s Gym most of which are located along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor that is the heart of the central business district. They vary in size and services, but all are large gyms that provide personal training services. Given that downtown is well served by three full-service gyms, is there a market for a small, no-frills 24-hour gym?

Milwaukee’s most densely populated neighborhoods have shown that they can support a number of these small health clubs. The East Side has a Snap Fitness and an Anytime Fitness (within a couple blocks of each other on Farwell Avenue). The Historic Third Ward has a Snap Fitness near it’s southern tip. Bay View has a Snap Fitness as well on Kinnickinnic Avenue. Just north of the East Side, there is an Anytime Fitness on Oakland Avenue near Capitol Drive.

These no-frills, 24-hour gyms contribute greatly to the urban environment. They occupy street-level retail stalls of a couple thousand square-feet each. The gyms don’t require much, if any parking. They’re open and well-lit 24-hours a day providing a constant use generator  that generates activity in the neighborhood and delivers safety by placing “eyes on the street.” The gyms also encourage healthier lifestyles by area residents.

Informal observation of the current assortment of 24-hour gyms in Milwaukee indicates that the clubs see their highest traffic after people return home from their 9-5 jobs. The gyms are packed with treadmills, elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, weight lifting equipment, tanning beds (depending on the gym), and other assorted athletic equipment.

Could downtown use one of these use generators? Given the amount of empty storefronts, the answer is clearly yes. A 24-hour gym could utilize an empty storefront or two, generating traffic that would increase the safety and vitality of the area. It would also serve as an amenity to encourage more downtown housing and office tenants.

The bigger question is, could downtown Milwaukee support a no-frills, 24-hour gym? The answer likely is, it depends. Given the lack of amenities a Snap Fitness or Anytime Fitness provides, it’s unlikely they would poach customers from one of the downtown full-service gyms based on a value proposition based around a single gym.

What a downtown 24-hour gym can offer though is shared membership with the other family of facilities throughout the region. If a Snap Fitness opens downtown, existing Snap Fitness members will be able to access it at no additional charge. For downtown employees that are already Snap Fitness members, this will provide a mid-day workout opportunity. It also may encourage additional members to sign-up. Yes, all of the other downtown gyms previously mentioned offer this service, but none have the number of facilities that Snap or Anytime have.

The additional members alone that are encouraged to sign-up because of an additional gym close to their place of employment likely wouldn’t be enough to keep a 24-hour gym in business though. The gym would need to be well-located to take advantage of the existing downtown population. A location north of Wisconsin Avenue in East Town would be desirable to draw in the existing downtown population, especially those without in-building workout rooms.

If the right location is chosen, a 24-hour gym should have no problem working in downtown Milwaukee. Because of the relative lack of amenities (swimming pool, actual running track, basketball court, parking) a Snap or Anytime would likely not compete for many customers with one of the existing gyms.

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