WATERLOO | Looks like the Cedar Valley SportsPlex is working out.
That’s the assessment of operators and clients of the $27.5 million physical fitness haven, which just marked its first anniversary.
Howard Harris, 83, who has been walking on the spongy track at the SportsPlex daily since he bought a $20 senior individual membership in October, was initially a skeptic.
“I didn’t think taxpayers should have paid for it,” said Harris, who began taking his daily walk in the SportsPlex when the weather took an Arctic turn. “I was wrong.”
The nonprofit Waterloo Development Corp. raised the money and built SportsPlex privately before turning the keys over to the city's Leisure Services Commission to run it.
The 140,000-square-foot facility covers nearly two city blocks next to U.S. Highway 218 in downtown Waterloo. It was developed as a public-private partnership after major employers challenged the city to invigorate downtown with quality-of-life amenities to attract skilled workers.
Array of activities
The building includes basketball courts, fitness and weight equipment, a field house with artificial turf for soccer, football and baseball, a jogging track, swimming pool, golf simulator, children's play area, child care center, multipurpose rooms and offices.
Harris said he walks eight laps -- six laps equals a mile -- and then rides the equivalent of 2 1/2 more on a stationary bicycle.
“I was walking outside every day because I had some physical problems. I had some surgery, and I needed to build myself up,” Harris said. “I started walking every day outside, and I wanted to keep walking and it was cold outside, so I joined here. It’s a wonderful, great place.”
The SportsPlex also was billed as a lure to downtown businesses and their employees, and that has worked out, said Mark Gallagher, recreation services manager with Waterloo Leisure Services.
“We’re definitely seeing we’re a hub for downtown business professionals, especially before work; that’s the biggest one,” Gallagher said. “You see a lot of third-shift guys from Deere coming off work.”
Mark McChane, who works at John Deere’s Donald Street site, signed his SportsPlex membership form a few weeks after the grand opening. He was engaged in his daily workout early Thursday morning.
“I tell you, I love it,” McChane said.
McChane said his wife got him to go. She had been a member at an area gym but habitually “came home frustrated” because she couldn’t access equipment she needed when she wanted it.
“So, she said, ‘We’re gonna look at the SportsPlex,’” McChane said. “I wasn’t intending on joining, but she came down here and started taking some classes, which are free here.”
There also are trainers available for hire, McChane noted.
“I actually just hired her one as a Christmas gift,” McChane said. “... They do offer a lot of stuff here; that’s what I like about it.”
McChane also noted the SportsPlex is close to his wife’s downtown workplace.
“It’s a little drive for me, but if I come down here right after work I have the energy. I just like the convenience of it. People are friendly. You walk in here and can do anything you want and don’t have to wait.”
He noted some SportsPlex members go through arduous workouts, while others are there just to keep in shape.
His workouts are on the lighter side.
“I had shoulder replacement in October 2013. I’m basically trying to rebuild muscle,” McChane said. “I’m not looking to be a bodybuilder or anything; I just want to keep myself moving."
Luke Farley, a senior at Columbus High School in Waterloo, says he signed up with the SportsPlex two months ago to help him prepare for college baseball.
“I’ll be playing at the University of Iowa next year,” said Farley, an outfielder from Denver.
His workout is focused on that plan, he said.
Businesses, a major constituency of the SportsPlex, are encouraged to get employees to join, Gallagher said.
“There are corporate partner rates, so if a business promotes us to their employees, they can get a 10 percent discount, and if they agree to a payroll deduction, it’s 15 percent,” Gallagher said. “It’s nice for them and nice for us. Say an employer has 30 people do it, they can have one payment to make.”
Incentives also feed the facility’s admittedly limited marketing strategy, which is primarily word of mouth, Gallagher said.
“It becomes the talk at work about where they’re working out,” he said. “We don’t have a huge marketing budget, so that ‘s a good way to get the word out.”
Gallagher said the SportsPlex has only about $7,500 budgeted for marketing.
As of last week, 25 organizations had signed up for payroll deductions, Gallagher said. Among them are Waterloo Community Schools, the city of Waterloo and UnityPoint-Allen Hospital. Community Bank & Trust in downtown Waterloo is a sponsor, Gallagher noted.
Proximity to the SportsPlex is a plus for Community National, said Stacey Bentley, president and CEO of the bank, which is about two blocks away.
“With the SportsPlex so close to our bank, it is very convenient,” she said. “There are other great facilities in town, as well, and we encourage personal wellness to all our employees wherever is best for their personal situation. I know several of our employees exercise in a variety of places in our community.”
Bentley said she goes to the SportsPlex because it is “only a few steps away” from the bank.
The SportsPlex is generally busiest between 6 and 8 a.m. and between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekdays. Attendance on the weekends can vary.
Adam Amdor, content manager at KWWL, another downtown business, said his station signed up late in the summer.
Amdor was running at a brisk pace on a treadmill early Wednesday morning as he talked about his workout regimen. He had been working out at a 24-hour gym in Cedar Falls, but he prefers SportsPlex’s downtown location.
“This is close to work,” he said. “This time a day, I try to come in before I go to work.”
Winter serves as an ally of the SportsPlex, which has room for indoor soccer programs, an array of cardio equipment and an Olympic-sized pool. It’s also time for fitness-focused New Year’s resolutions.
“December was by far our best month in terms of revenues in general,” Gallagher said. “Obviously, our revenues pick up when it’s cold outside.”
Organizers set a goal of 1,300 membership “units” when SportsPlex opened last year. They have exceeded that goal.
“As of right now, we’re at about 1,663, so we’re 350-plus over what we hoped for,” he said. “It had been fairly steady and slowed down a little in November and then picked back up, with people trying to get healthier (as winter set in). You can really feel the energy in the building now.”
A healthier downtown
Gallagher said the SportsPlex will go far in helping to bulk up the downtown.
“When you bring someone into your town, take 10 years ago, you bring them downtown and say, 'Don’t go there.' Now, you’ve got a water park, amphitheater, music, boating, food market, SportsPlex and entertainment, weddings and all the activity,” he said. “That’s pretty contrary to what we had 10 years ago. We cleaned up a myriad of eyesore buildings, and that will continue. We’ve changed the total complexion of the city, and not only on the west side.”
Interest in the new workout haven has transcended the narrow boundaries of downtown Waterloo, Gallagher said.
“I think just the way it’s been embraced by different parts of the community -- ethnically and age,” Gallagher said. “We have people here age 2 to 92. It becomes almost a little city within a city. We have two people who have lost 80 pounds. It’s kind of neat to see those people transform from the day we opened to now.”