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Club's popularity, demand for parking spell end for pool

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The pool and surrounding playground at Fitness Connection in Greenville will not be reopen this summer as company officials explore avenues to increase parking for its growing gym membership after recent renovations were completed.

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Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Monday, May 14, 2018

A $2 million renovation at a popular Greenville fitness club has drawn so many new customers inside that it is closing an outdoor feature that has been a fixture in the city’s recreation landscape for decades.

Dallas-based Fitness Connection announced to members earlier this year that it would not reopen the large swimming pool and slide adjacent to the Charles Boulevard facility when the weather gets hot this summer. The club’s membership has grown so much thanks to the renovations that it needs the space to help alleviate a parking crunch, the company said.

“This property always has had a parking problem, especially at night when people come after work,” Greenville manger Rick Anderson said. “Now people are coming in droves. By February, the parking shortage had become unmanageable. We can’t lose people because they can’t park, so it left us no other choice.”

An announcement posted in the lobby further explained the company’s dilemma. 

“We invested in these updates to make Fitness Connection a place you want to be,” it said. “However ... the increased attendance has caused an even greater parking issue, which we’re looking to correct.”

Customers were informed that the pool and surrounding playground area was proving to be the most viable solution for adding as many as 200 new spaces. City approval, the permitting process and further significant investment will take time and provide for a complete evaluation process, but the decision to immediately close the pool had been made.

The pool in the past has been a place for community groups to rent for parties and for members to take their families and guests to cool off from the summer heat. When Gold’s Gym owned the facility, it hosted a summer swim team and community swim meets.

It’s too early to say what impact the closure may have at other pool facilities in the area — several country clubs, neighborhoods and fitness centers operate pools in addition to the two city facilities — but operators said a bump in business would not surprise them. They also said the business of operating a pool is challenging.

“It’s a very tough business, with a lot of regulatory and liability issues and high maintenance costs,” said Greg Lassiter of Champions Fitness Center, which operates a pool at Cherry Oaks Recreation Center in Greenville.

“We’ve worked very hard at Cherry Oaks to maintain a clean atmosphere and make sure that people coming in there are paying members. Unfortunately, people do not look at a swimming pool as a real business, but a community recreation center. You have to keep the pool highly staffed, and it’s very costly overhead. If operating a private pool was a huge moneymaker, you’d see a lot more of them opening up.”

Mike Godwin is the director of Aquaventure, a large indoor pool complex that opened in Winterville in 2016 with programs for individual, family and competitive swimmers. He said people who swam at Fitness Connection will look for another location, including his, as an alternative.

“Fitness Connection probably is looking at the huge cost and challenge of operating a pool while trying to operate their overall business as efficiently as possible,” Godwin said. “If they’re seeing great increases in their (fitness) area and there’s a pretty simple solution for maintaining those increases, that’s a pretty clear-cut business decision.”

Dallas Inman, supervisor of Greenville’s aquatics programs, said she cannot predict how Fitness Connection’s pool closure might impact attendance at the city’s seasonal outdoor pool on Myrtle Avenue or the indoor facility at the Greenville Aquatics Center, but feels prepared to handle any new members.

“We normally see a spike in attendance during the summer and plan accordingly, including a full staff of lifeguards,” Inman said.

Payton Sauter of the Courtside Tennis and Swim Club on Wimbledon Drive said he expects his pool will pick up some of the residual business from Fitness Connection pool. “It will definitely help us get a few memberships,” Sauter said. 

Fitness Connection officials said most of its members come for the year-round programming it offers inside the Oakmont Drive facility, and the renovations focused on that strength.

Even before the renovation was completed, membership began to expand in anticipation, Anderson, the general manager, said. The center currently serves about 3,500 active members, including many who signed up after the Jan. 1 debut of the newly-renovated club.

Many longtime customers became frustrated when parking spaces, already tough to find during peak hours, grew scarcer because of increased membership. The company leased about 40 parking spaces from a landlord across the street for evening use, but it was not enough to accommodate the need.

Anderson, who has been at the helm of the Greenville club for three years, said he understood the history and popularity of the pool and tried to make a go of it as a revenue source, offering pool parties and other events.

But it was not producing enough revenue during its few months of operation each year to justify the high year-round maintenance, regulatory and staffing costs while the gym was starving for parking space, he said.

He said membership is thrilled with the state-of-the art gym equipment installed throughout the redesigned facility, including completely overhauled locker rooms, strength-building machines and free weights, turf-training and cross-fit equipment and racquetball courts.

The facility now has rooms appointed for Zumba dance, yoga, aerobics and other group exercise classes -— including a women-only room — personal and team training, a “kids club” for parents to work out with children in tow and a “Fit-Flix” room with a wall-size screen that shows movies while members work out on fit cycles.

“We’ve done some incredible work here and have a facility we’re proud to offer our members,” Anderson said.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.

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