An Exercise in Reinvention –Crain’s Cleveland Business
A commercial litigator at BakerHostetler for close to nine years, Nick White is geared up to power lift the fitness bar in the Tremont, Ohio City and Detroit Shoreway neighborhoods.
He’s the founder of the Tremont Athletic Club (TAC), a 14,000-square-foot, full-service fitness facility that will open this fall as the anchor tenant in the Fairmont Creamery building. The $15 million historic redevelopment by Oberlin-based Sustainable Community Associates also will offer 30 residential apartments, a cafe and wide array of office and business incubation space when it’s complete in November.
White, a transplant from Michigan, landed at the Cleveland firm in 2005 after graduating from law school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He said his exit from the security of “Big Law” is not a negative leaving-the-legal-industry story.
“When you practice law you see a lot of people who are unhappy. You’re fixing something that’s wrong, especially in litigation, and I wanted to be around people for the one hour of the day that they are feeling really good about themselves and doing something for themselves,” White said. “I felt really good when I was with those people in the gym and that feeling was what sprung me into this idea of owning a gym someday, and I knew I wanted to do it in Tremont, Ohio City or the Shoreway.”
Filling a need
A resident of Tremont since 2010, White was faced with the dearth of options for full-service fitness centers in and near downtown. He began reading books, researching the industry and making a point to visit one or two gyms when he traveled to cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles on legal business.
He created his concept over the past two-and-a-half years — a process he called “the fun part” — while he searched for a suitable location. He heard about SAC’s plan to revive the Fairmont Creamery and connected with the developing trio of Josh Rosen, Ben Ezinga and Naomi Sabel to see if his vision for a gym would fit into their plans for the renovation of the 1930s building.
Turns out they were in the market for a fitness center and the right operator.
“When we talked with the neighborhood CDCs (community development corporations), we heard consistently that a fitness center was the sort of amenity that the West Side neighborhoods were lacking and one of the key elements that would make the neighborhood feel complete and draw new residents,” Rosen said.
“The building itself had a significant amount of space that laid out nicely for a unique gym,” he said. “Old coolers could become locker rooms and saunas. Cardio machines can be oriented toward huge operable windows overlooking the train tracks. It felt like the right use for the space.”
White loved the potential of the industrial space and how its transformation would be a metaphor for the fitness journeys people would undergo there.
“I want people to feel like they are in a high-end gym, but to preserve, highlight and pay tribute to the history of the space and existing finishes — glazed brick, cooler doors, large concrete pillars,” White said. “The view is fantastic. You have the West Side Market on the left and the skyline of Cleveland on the right. It’s going to be beautiful.”
He raised the necessary capital — north of $500,000 — from private investors and his own capital and took the entrepreneurial leap. He signed a lease a few days before Christmas 2013.
“(Nick) understood the need for a fitness center but we also loved that he lived in the neighborhoods he was looking to serve. Anytime we can work with an individual instead of a corporation, we are thrilled,” Rosen said. “Having the local knowledge and really knowing your neighbor and understanding the culture of the community is oftentimes the X factor and something we really value.”
The two-floor gym will have state-of-the-art cardio equipment, free weights, functional fitness areas, group exercise studios, locker rooms, showers, a sauna and a rooftop deck for sunrise and sunset yoga and boot camp classes. But what will really set the gym apart will be its sense of community, White said.
“I want it to feel when you come into the Tremont Athletic Club that you are walking into your favorite bar, restaurant, bookstore, your favorite place,” he said.
Adding to new neighborhoods
New bursts of residential development like the Fairmont Creamery are opening up opportunities for new gyms, especially private ventures. Take EB Fitness Club, which opened in the heart of the Flats East Bank development at the end of October.
Positioned in the Aloft Hotel and adjacent to Ernst & Young Tower, EB Fitness (short for East Bank) is an upscale 18,000-square-foot space that offers exclusive equipment, such as a rope-climbing machine. The club also offers a weight management clinic and anti-aging medi-spa.
Dr. John Fortuna, president of EB Fitness, said being located near the 4,000 employees who work in the Tower and the residents who will live in the new 250-unit apartment complex was a critical aspect of why they chose to open the gym there.
In five months, the club has gained about 750 members, said Fortuna, who also is the director of chiropractic at St. Vincent Medical Center.
Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc., said the nonprofit is halfway to its goal of 1,000 new residential units in the area.
Ronayne said University Circle’s dense, walkable neighborhoods are “positioned for more growth,” he said. “A new fitness center would complete our neighborhood.”
Photo credit: REBECCA R. MARKOVITZ