KANSAS CITY, MO — Scheduled to break ground later this month, a 6,500-square-foot, $1.2 million fitness center downtown has drawn vocal critics from the local health club industry and members of the city council. The debate is over taxpayer money that will be used to construct the fitness center, which will service city employees and area residents.

Wayne Cauthen, city manager, proposed the fitness center, hoping to reduce the city's medical insurance costs by giving Kansas City's workers fitness options. Kansas City was rated in the top 20 fattest cities in the United States by Men's Fitness magazine this year, and Cauthen says he hopes the club will help get obese employees and those with chronic medical conditions into shape.

Councilman Jim Rowland, chairman of the city council's Budget and Audit Committee, says the fitness center is a waste of taxpayers' money. He's quoted in a June 18, 2004 article from The Kansas City Star, saying, “I don't imagine we're getting back our million dollars,” Rowland said. “At least on the surface it appears to be a sweetheart deal for whoever is operating the fitness center at a moment in time when we need every dollar we can get.”

Some downtown club owners think the large facility may hurt their business, and they aren't very happy about using tax money to pay for the center. “It's not going to be good for us. I think it may be hard, but I'm not that worried about it,” Doug Chappelow, owner of River Market Fitness in Kansas City, MO, said. “But I do have a problem with paying lots of taxes to build a fitness center that's going to take my business.”

Chappelow thinks most of his current customers will stay because his business is locally owned. “A lot of people want to support local businesses. You just don't get the same service from a large, crowded corporate club,” he said.

The center, which will be located on the first floor of a parking garage in the downtown area, is slated to open in November. St. Luke's Health System will run the non-profit center, and funding will come from bonds used to build the parking garage where the center will be located.