As municipalities cut their budgets due to the recession, many city administrators have cut funding for city rec centers. Some of them are turning to privatizing some or all of their rec centers.

At least one municipality, Broadview Heights, OH, has decided to partner with Integrated Wellness Partners, which is a joint venture between Akron General Health System and Signet Development, to build a $30 million, 115,000-squarefoot medical wellness center. The facility will include three gyms, group exercise classes, three pools, child care and medical facilities that will include outpatient services, physicians offices and a 24-hour emergency department.

The facility, which is expected to open in 2013, is being built next to city hall on city land leased by Akron General.

If Doug Ribley, vice president of health and wellness services at Akron General Health System, has his way, more municipalities will start partnering with his group on their rec centers.

“The rec center model is broken,” Ribley says. He explains that prior to using tax dollars to build these facilities, city administrators must make promises about what they will charge for rec center use, but that charge often is not enough to cover their costs.

The solution, according to Ribley, is a partnership between a local health care provider and the municipality, which is what Integrated Wellness Partners is seeking to create with municipalities beyond Broadview Heights. Ribley says the company will soon announce several projects with municipalities, as well as with universities and medical groups, two other groups the company is targeting.

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The advantage of a public-private partnership is that no tax dollars are required. And, in the case of Integrated Wellness Partners, the facilities are based on an approach that Ribley says is already working at Akron General’s three medical wellness centers. The centers include freestanding emergency departments, diagnostic testing capabilities, clinical rehab services and fitness centers.

“So it’s not just a medical fitness component,” Ribley says. “It’s a comprehensive outpatient delivery model, which is completely unique.”

The 21,000 citizens of Broadview Heights, which is located between Cleveland and Akron, can join their existing rec centers for $21 per month, a rate for adults 19 years old to 59 years old. Memberships at the new medical wellness center are promised at a discounted price to citizens of Broadview Heights, but the exact price has not been stated. Whether Integrated Wellness Partners could operate the city rec centers at the same dues price as municipalities would depend on the city and the facility, Ribley says.

“We’d operate it in the most cost-efficient way as we could, and we’d charge appropriate prices,” he says. “Every market is different.”

Ribley says that every community in the country should have access to this kind of model, which appeals to a more mature, deconditioned and higher-risk population than commercial club operators typically market to.

Ribley says: “We don’t see ourselves in the commercial club business. We are in the health care business. That’s the way we approach these projects. Municipalities that talk to us, they are not interested in a rec center or club—they are interested in a way to improve the health of their community. So that is what makes us unique. We operate and develop health and wellness centers as opposed to other groups that build and operate health clubs. It’s very different. We cater to a different market. It’s a different facility, different programs. And there’s a tremendous demand for this.”