'Sexy suburb' Gables to get two more fitness centers
By Suzy Valentine
Coral Gables is to gain two more gyms to whip the city into shape - perhaps fitting for one where the chamber of commerce chief is an Army reservist.
New York-based Equinox Fitness is to lease 29,000 square feet at the Shops at The Village of Merrick Park and another unnamed national chain is coming to 55 Merrick Way.
"We're signing a deal with a company on Friday that has more than $1 billion in assets," said Ponce Trust developer Randy Hill, who declined to identify the Merrick Way tenant. "It's one of its first clubs in Florida."
The two arrivals would bring to 20 the number of fitness centers within a 6-mile radius of the City Beautiful.
The number of gyms played a role last month in ABC TV network naming the city as the second sexiest suburb. Among 18 existing fitness sites is the 10,000-square-foot Biltmore Fitness Center - refitted only last year.
Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce President Lettie Bien - who last year returned from a year of active service in Iraq - is confident the demand is there.
"My guess is that both arrivals are fairly astute in their marketing," said Ms. Bien, "and they must have done their homework. I can't imagine these companies would put huge sums of money into facilities without conducting feasibility studies."
She highlighted the contrasts between locations.
"The Village of Merrick Park is to the south of the city while 55 Merrick is in the north," Ms. Bien said. "I don't know whether the facilities will target the same demographic, but Equinox Fitness tailors its offerings to particular locations. The Village of Merrick Park outlet is to house a cafe."
Equinox Fitness is to open a pre-construction sales office next month to sell memberships to its 2-story facility, which is to feature an indoor pool. It plans to open in May 2006.
Ms. Bien said each gym is accessible to visitors.
"The Village of Merrick Park is just off US 1," she said, "while the 55 Merrick property is close to Douglas Road."
Equinox Fitness has 19 branches and seven on the way. The chain is planning its second facility within Miami-Dade County and Florida at 520 Collins Ave. in Miami Beach, according to the company's Web site.
"I understand the one in South Beach is further along," Ms. Bien said, "and the chain has never had a gym fail."
Ms. Bien said it was no surprise that fitness centers will test the Florida market in Coral Gables.
"Some retailers have opened their first US stores at the Village of Merrick Park," she said. "Coral Gables specifically and Greater Miami generally are attractive markets."
Ms. Bien said she plans to renew her membership at one of the city's established facilities - Paradise Gym above Bagel Emporium at 1235 S Dixie Highway.
"It's a real guys' gym," she said, "not fluffy at all. Owner Gene Meehan moved here a few years ago and has been quietly buying up gyms which include the Downtown Athletic Club."
The role of a reservist, she said, is demanding.
"A reservist assigned to a Special Operations Forces unit better stay in shape," she said. "We have a physical training test twice a year and a combat swim test and 55-pound-pack timed road march each year."