Forty-six years after it was founded as a civic association with an emphasis on the outdoors, sports and fitness, the Columbia Association is exploring shifting its focus to wellness and vitality.
"This is the time to initiate CA's new face and business model," CA President Phil Nelson wrote in a memo earlier this month to the CA board of directors. "(A wellness-vitality model) is more in line with nutrition and incorporates physical activity, a blend of those is what most people are looking for."
Nelson attributed the need to shift to myriad factors, including changing demographics, fitness trends, an aging population and the influx of private fitness centers in the Columbia market.
"We are seeing that the average people using our facilities are 40-years-old," Nelson said. "But it's not just the age factor. We are dealing with six different generations in Columbia and each one has different needs and different wants."
The Columbia Association presently oversees 23 swimming pools, 3,500 acres of open space, an indoor swim center, three fitness facilities and other amenities for Columbia residents.
Nelson said by moving away from a traditional fitness model to a more blended approach focusing on both physical fitness and health and wellness, CA can become more flexible and appealing to the entire Columbia community.
CA Board member Michael Cornell, who chairs the subcommittee assigned to explore a new business mode, said the board has been considering wellness and vitality for some time.
"We are at a crossroads within the organization," Cornell said. "As the demographics of this community changes, so will the needs of the community."
According to a presentation Nelson delivered to the board last summer, Howard County and Columbia are set to experience stark increase in its non-white population, which is expected to make up more than 65 percent of the county's population by 2040. Nelson added that the percentage of people older than 65 in Columbia has doubled in the past two decades, rising from 4.7 percent in 1990 to 10.8 percent in 2010. Projections indicate the population of residents 65 and older will continue to increase at a similar rate for the next 30 years.
Cornell said one aspect of CA programming the board is exploring is the use of the outdoor pools, which may dip as the population ages.
"We've got more snowbirds and more retirees and they want different programs," Cornell said "We have the highest density of pools in the country. We can't just keep building pools. How can we change to create more value?"
The board already has taken a step toward shifting its business model with the construction of the new fitness center in the basement of the former Rouse Company building. According to CA officials, the new 27,000-square-foot club is being billed as a "mind-body retreat" that will offer participants a place to "relax, retreat and rejuvenate."
The new club, set to open in September 2014, will offer alternative medicine, a wellness spa and two studios that offer programs such as Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi.
"The community can't afford for anything we do to be stagnant," Cornell said. "Any organization needs to grow or evolve, and if it doesn't, it dies."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun