Neighborhoods and Fitness

A couple of weeks ago, a few colleagues of mine from the Collaborative Design Group took a tour of some of the old and new examples of mixed-use in Denver and Boulder. I had taken many self-guided tours of the places over the past few years, which allowed be to dive into the details a little more this time around.

This tour was more of an examination of retail mixes, successes and the integration into the adjacent neighborhood fabric. I attempted to view the places through this lens as a metric for a mixed-use planning project that the Collaborative Design Group is currently designing. One common theme that I noticed on the tour was the incorporation of a fitness establishment into just about every place that we visited. The fitness use, commonly a 24-Hour Fitness, was the most vibrant place in the neighborhood.

The fitness industry’s success is interesting to me, but I am a bit torn in my enthusiasm. Should we as a country be excited that fitness places are so successful, or should we be worried that so many people feel the need to pay to be fit?

Anyway, that could be an entirely different blog post than what I set out to discuss. Today, I want to explore how a neighborhood could best integrate fitness into their neighborhood. Scratch that, because that is an entirely different post too. Let’s try how does a fitness building use integrates into the neighborhood?

Shops with Fitness
A 24-Hour Fitness brings a sense of vibrancy to a Lifestyle Center during hours that the Center is otherwise closed for business.
Lifestyle Center
The remainder of the Lifestyle Center is essentially "closed for business".

A fitness establishment provides a neighborhood one of the most desired outcomes, repeat customers and a presence of people, especially during the hours that a conventionally designed lifestyle center is otherwise closed for business. A fitness establishment has the advantage of providing a Third Place for a neighborhood. This was incredibly evident in a few locations that we visited. The top photo was in taken in a lifestyle center on the block of a 24-Hour Fitness. The photo below it was taken at the same time (around 9 am) in the same center. Note that one seems vibrant, the other not. If you were to choose to purchase coffee in one of the two places, most would choose the place next to 24-Hour Fitness. For whatever reason, most people like to go where there are other people. If a place looks desolate and like there are no other customers, it is often assumed it is because the product or service is no good.

Lesson: Locate places with similar peak business times next to each other. In the case of a fitness gymnasium, obvious synergies are coffee, physical therapy offices, health food places, day cares, day spas, healthy food restaurants, office uses, and certainly residential. Having said that, retail specialists will tell you that the restaurants should be a comfortable distance from the fitness uses. The last thing that a restauranteur wants is to have their customers second guess the meal that they came to order because the fitness establishment reminded them that they are attempting to lose weight.

The frequency of use and the amount of turn-over that a fitness use brings to a neighborhood must be strategically located. It is typically a destination use, often visited by single-occupant vehicle (SOV). This equates to a lot of vehicular trips, therefore sensitivity to the remainder of the neighborhood is crucial. At the same time, the frequency of trips is a major attribute to adjacent businesses, especially complimentary businesses as discussed above. In conjunction with the large quantity of SOVs, parking must also be accommodated with caution. Shared parking is a part of the equation, especially with uses during normal business hours (8 am to 5 pm) such as offices.

Another great advantage that I think is overlooked regarding fitness uses, is the ability to utilize multiple floors for the building. This has an incredible advantage where terrain is involved. Exterior access points can be accommodated for three levels of use for a fitness building, decreasing the costs of otherwise expensive retaining walls.

Fitness establishments add a great level of vibrancy to a neighborhood or center. They can provide a critical anchor of frequent activity as both a convenience and destination. Implementation, however, must be completed with a level of caution.

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