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Centre membership drive going strong

It was a full house at Monday night's "Body Pump" class at the New Richmond Area Centre. Mike Juhl (at left) is one of the Centre's new members who is very satisfied with the new attitude and the lower fees at the local facility.

Only a month after the Greater St. Paul YMCA pulled out of New Richmond, the newly organized New Richmond Area Centre that took over the recreational and fitness operation is going strong.

According to Executive Director Darian Blattner, The Centre now has about 880 membership units signed up.

That's already a considerable hike over the declining YMCA membership that fell below 700 in the months prior to that non-profit organization's decision to leave.

The Centre's goal is to have 999 members by the end of 2009. The facility will attain self sufficiency if they reach a membership of about 950, Blattner said.

"Our goal was to start Jan. 1 at 700 and our break even number was 900 in 2009," he said. "We are finding that more adults and families are in need of some form of financial support, so our break even number will be closer to 950. We want to make sure that we provide opportunities for everyone to participate and that might mean we need a few extra memberships to hit the break even point."

Board member Bill Buell said everyone involved in The Centre's transition has been thrilled with the results so far.

He said the ultimate hope is that the recreational facility will operate fully on its own, without additional subsidies from area taxpayers.

"We know what we have to do to make that possible," Buell said. "The people at The Centre are exceptional and they're working hard to get people through the doors."

Myrna and Mike Juhl of New Richmond are two of The Centre's new satisfied customers. They previously held a YMCA membership and decided to continue as The Centre members.

Since the transition from the YMCA to the new organization, Myrna said the atmosphere of the local facility is much more to her liking.

"There's a change in energy," she said. "There's excitement when you go there, and everybody is really friendly."

Blattner said many people have mentioned the shift in how the facility feels.

"People have been complimentary in the change in culture as we become more member focused," he said.

The fact that membership fees dropped significantly under The Centre operation has helped the members' enthusiasm too.

"That was huge for us," Myrna said. "With the tight economy, you always are looking for things to cut out of your family budget. Now it's even easier to keep our membership going."

The Juhls and their children, Austin and Danielle, head to The Centre for recreation and exercise three or four times a week. They take advantage of classes and have really appreciated having an indoor haven to enjoy this winter when the weather has been nasty outside.

The Juhls are just one family among The Centre's growing membership that appreciates all that the pool and recreational facility has to offer.

About 700 members have transferred their memberships from the YMCA to The Centre so far. Another 200 brand new members have signed up as well.

"We seem to get three to five new people coming in daily. The parking lot is full a majority of the day and our classes are seeing increased usage," Blattner said.

The positive trend leads Blattner and The Centre's volunteer Board of Directors to believe that The Centre will be in solid financial position very soon.

"The response so far has been tremendous and that makes me believe we will be able to provide high quality programs and services to our community for a long time to come," he said.

The Centre began its health insurance reimbursement program on Feb. 1, allowing some members to enjoy membership at a reduced cost. Some insurance companies offer reimbursement to encourage clients to exercise.

Now The Centre staff will focus its energy on adding or improving programs to its catalog of offerings, Blattner said.

This past weekend, The Centre held its first teen night. A "tween night" for fourth and fifth graders was held on Saturday and 82 kids showed up.

"Kristen Latzig leads our youth and teen programs and she has some great programs coming this spring and beyond," Blattner said.

The Centre is also working closely with area employers and organizations to create individualized wellness programs. The facility is also working with area sports associations to offer off-season opportunities for training.

"This is certainly an exciting time for us," Blattner said. "And we're certainly grateful to the community for the way they've responded."