For years, I enjoyed one of the healthy benefits of being a Campus Pastor at UMD--inexpensive access to the gymnasium and fitness center on campus. This was very convenient when we lived right across the street, a little less so once we moved a mile away from campus. I mostly enjoyed using the fitness machines and the sauna, Gayle the aerobic classes. However, about two or three years ago, UMD significantly raised the cost for my category of affiliation with UMD, and Gayle, who to her credit had been keeping up with classes geared for 20 year old students, was getting a little tired of the background music styles used by the instructors. Therefore, we started looking at different fitness options in the community.
The two major facilities are The Duluth Clinic Fitness & Therapy Center and the YMCA. Gayle and I initially settled on the Fitness Center, and have belonged there for over a year. However, we finally gave in to the requests of our children and joined the YMCA when, on February 14, the YMCA had a day where they waived the joiner fee. I thought the readers of this blog might be interested in my evaluation of the two facilities, especially as it relates to our family's needs.
While the two organizations have a significat overlap of the services they provide, there are some different focal points as well. One obvious one is that the YMCA is geared towards families, while the Fitness Center is aimed at serving adults in their fitness needs. (Older children can use the Fitness Center, but mine did not find much of what they wanted to do there.)
Membership costs are similar, with initial joining and monthly membership fees. (The YMCA has rare times where they waive the fee.) You can locate the fees at their web sites above. The YMCA's family membership includes all your children at home, a nice deal for large families. Also, the YMCA has financial assistance for which you can apply that can reduce your costs. This can help a lot.
As to transportation and location, the two facilities are very similar. The Fitness Center is in the Miller Dwan and Duluth Clinic Second Street building in the medical district of Duluth at 2nd Street and 4th Avenue East. The YMCA is right downtown on First Street at 3rd Avenue West. Parking is similar. Street parking at meters are located around the buildings, and you may or may not find a spot close to the building. The Fitness Center has an attached parking ramp that costs $2 per visit. (Early morning and later afternoon visits are 50 cents per hour for Fitness Center members.) The YMCA has arrangements with three ramps nearby (one-half to three blocks away) for two hours of free parking. The closest of these is the Holiday Inn ramp. (There are plans to connect the YMCA to the Holiday Inn ramp by a skywalk soon.) Bus transportation is also similar. The Fitness Center is right on most of the eastern bus routes. The YMCA is a block away from just about every bus line as they go through downtown Duluth.
As far as the upkeep of the facilities go, the Fitness Center is pretty well kept up, though some parts of the facility are showing their age. The YMCA is quite a bit more run down, but will soon be undergoing a $4 million dollar renovation with funds raised separate from membership fees. (I think they are over 75% done with the fundraising.)
The fitness machines and weights I would evaluate as about even between the two facilities. Regarding aerobic classes for adults, the Fitness Center probably gives more options, but there are plenty at the YMCA. Gayle does the classes more, and she hasn't been to any classes at the Y yet. (I should point out that the YMCA DOES have what they call "Adult time" for a couple hours around lunch, and Saturday evening, where kids are not at the facility other than in the Kid's Club.) The Fitness Center has a sauna in the locker rooms. The YMCA's saunas are currently in locker rooms that require an additional monthly charge, but after the renovation, there won't be separate locker rooms and the saunas and steam rooms will be available to everyone.
Both the Fitness Center and the YMCA have pools for use in classes and lap swimming. The YMCA also has a smaller (and warmer) therapy pool that is nice for smaller children. The Fitness Center has a therapy pool, too, that is frequenly used for therapy but is open for adults when not so used. Both places have a whirlpool/hot tub/spa. (The Y's is actually a little nicer, but not open as many hours.) Both have walking tracks that are similar.
The YMCA includes many things that are not at the Fitness Center: Basketball courts (my older girls like this), racquetball courts (it's been way over 20 years since I've played racquetball, but I might try to relearn this sport now), a gymnastics area for the kids, and a free Kid's Club area with supervision and toys for younger kids to play with while parents are working out. There are also a lot of different programs for people of all ages at and away from the building itself, with varying costs.
I'm sure there are other differences, but these are the ones that mean the most for my family and that I have noticed.
I put our membership at the Fitness Center on a temporary "Freeze" until we decide for sure what we want to do. I will miss some of the things at the Fitness Center, especially the sauna, and I think if it were just for my wife and I, we would be continuing our Fitness Center membership, but with the activities for the kids, we'll probably be YMCA members for a while.