Kent residents shouldn’t expect any bargain membership rates when a new YMCA opens in 2019 on the East Hill.
In fact, monthly rates by the nonprofit group are expected to be much higher than fees at the privately owned LA Fitness or the city-operated Federal Way Community Center. Even with reduced rates based on household incomes, the YMCA fees are higher for single adults than at LA Fitness.
But YMCA and city officials say members will get a lot more bang for the buck than at a private club.
The rates for Kent haven’t been set yet. The $24.5 million facility (paid mainly through private fundraising) won’t open until 2019, with construction starting in May at city property at Morrill Meadows Park near Southeast 248th Street and 104th Avenue Southeast.
“We haven’t tried to hide the rates,” said Nathan Phillips, regional vice president for the YMCA of Greater Seattle in a phone interview. “The rates go up each year, so I can’t tell you what the fees will be in 2019, but I tell folks to look at Auburn and SeaTac – they are our blueprint.”
Charts on the YMCA websites for its facilities in Auburn and SeaTac list the rates, based on household incomes. An adult with a household income of more than $80,000 pays the full rate of $75 per month. A couple pays $124 per month and a family of four pays $133.
“The full membership fees reflects the total operating costs with all the programs,” Phillips said.
The YMCA uses a sliding household income scale to determine the rest of its rates. The lowest rates are for a household income of $25,000 or less with $45 per month fee for an adult, $43.40 for a couple and $46.55 for a family of four.
The nonprofit group plans to raise at least $1 million per year in Kent to help reduce rates for households with lower incomes so they can use the 50,000-square foot facility.
One adult pays about $30 per month to join LA Fitness, according to the website for its Kent location on Washington Avenue South. An adult pays about $35 per month at the Federal Way Community Center, built and run by the city of Federal Way. Each facility has at least one gym and a pool.
So why are rates higher at the YMCA?
“One thing I remind people when folks compare us to for-profit gyms, the Y is a lot more than just a gym,” Phillips said. “We are a charity that helps people achieve healthy living goals. It’s more than a place to pump some iron.”
City Parks Director Julie Parascondola agreed the YMCA offers many programs.
“One of the primary differences between a YMCA and places like 24 Hour Fitness or LA Fitness, etc. is that the YMCA focus on so much more than just fitness,” she said in an email. “In my opinion, these aren’t comparable organizations. The YMCA is a nonprofit who yes, has an element of their business model that focuses on health, physical fitness and community wellness with group fitness, free or machine weights, personal training, etc. That’s probably where the comparable ends.
“The YMCA also offers swim lessons and other organized sports leagues for both youth and adult. General gyms or fitness clubs don’t offer that type of expanded physical fitness opportunity give or take a few random opportunities and mostly none for youth.”
Phillips said members also pay monthly at the YMCA and know what they will get as part of the fee.
“There are not gimmicks or annual contracts,” he said. “It’s all in the fee. We bill it that way because people are more likely to use the Y so they can achieve their healthy goals. I’ve heard our members say at a normal gym you pay for a year and they count on you not to show up. Once they sign up at the Y, we do everything we can to get them to use the facility and even call them if they haven’t been for a while.”
Phillips expects the Kent Y to attract about 11,000 members and serve another 11,000 residents through a variety of outreach services such as health and wellness, counseling, education, case management, child care and sports programs.
Parascondola met with YMCA officials to help negotiate the agreement with Kent to use city property for the facility. She came away impressed with all that the group offers.
“They have academic enrichment programs, school-based enrichment programs for low-income students, licensed mental health counseling, chemical dependency programs, crisis intervention services, student feeding programs, school-aged childcare programs at reduced rates for low-income families, young adult violence prevention programs (gang prevention) and community health programs chronic disease prevention programs,” she said.
The YMCA signed a 50-year contract with the city to run the facility, which includes up to $1 million a year in fee assistance.
“Which is significant,” Parascondola said.
The city will pay for an estimated $6.5 million of improvements and changes at Morrill Meadows Park and the nearby East Hill Park (including a new dog park) as well as a new 250-spot parking lot. The city also will pay about $2 million for frontage improvements along Southeast 248th Street – a three-lane road, new sidewalks and bike lanes and moving the overhead utilities underground.
Kent will spend another $1.5 million to buy replacement park property for the land lost due to the new YMCA. The park property had restrictions because portions of the land were acquired with grant funds through the state Recreation and Conservation Office and funds through King County’s 1989 open space bonds.
Because Kent has similar household income levels to Auburn and SeaTac, the YMCA figures numbers to be alike when members sign up for the East Hill facility.
“Eighty percent of the SeaTac community has household income under $80,000,” Phillips said. “And 80 percent of our members fall into the tiers under $80,000. Auburn is in the 70 percent range. In Kent, we expect 75 percent of our members to be in categories below $80,000 annual household income.”
Phillips said many people sign up for memberships at YMCA locations.
“We will set dues based on household income levels, so we can ensure access across incomes,” he said. “We do it in Auburn, SeaTac and our downtown Seattle branch and in Shoreline. It’s been amazingly successful.”