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Alternative Fitness Concepts Whip Neighborhood Retail Centers into Shape

July 8, 2016

A growing array of indoor athletic and sporting facilities – from climbing gyms and spinning studios to swim and ping-pong clubs – are popping up in metro areas across the country, beefing up occupancies in retail centers that, until now, have struggled to fill vacancies created by the recession and a broader economic shift to e-commerce.

“Because of a community’s density and the fact that they are already built out, many lack fitness options beyond a basic gym,” said Mike DeRouin, president of FitzGerald Associates Architects, which recently designed and built a climbing and yoga gym for First Ascent Climbing & Fitness in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood. “While golf courses, athletic fields and other large recreational facilities remain cost prohibitive in many urban and suburban areas where land is in short supply, many of these alternative fitness concepts require much less space and, as a result, are exploring all of their real estate options – including retail properties – in order to be as close as possible to population centers.”

In addition to its work in Avondale, FitzGerald has also retrofitted several commercial properties in the Chicago area and elsewhere around the Midwest for Bear Paddle Swim Clubs, family-friendly facilities that offer swimming classes for children. These facilities, which range in size from 6,681 square feet to 14,133 square feet, but typically average about 10,000 square feet, have generally been carved out of empty retail space, such as an empty furniture showroom in Orland Park, Ill. In one case, however, an empty office suite also was repurposed.

“While we can convert virtually any type of property into another use, many vacant big-box stores are ideal for these emerging fitness concepts due to their flexible floor plates, proximity to nearby retail and residential foot traffic, and ample parking,” said DeRouin. “Starting with raw space gives us design flexibility to create unique fitness environments.”

Also contributing to the proliferation of alternative fitness concepts is an increasingly diverse customer base. “A rock-climbing club appeals to people of all ages, including families who might rent the facility for a party, as well as baby boomers looking for a new fitness regimen,” said David Kennedy, principal at KTGY Architecture + Planning’s Chicago/Midwest office. KTGY recently designed Vertical Endeavors in Glendale Heights, Ill., and expects the fitness market to continue growing. “What’s unique about alternative exercise facilities is that they can succeed next door to a traditional health club, because they offer different, and in many ways synergistic, experiences,” said Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the impact of these new fitness concepts is having a ripple effect in the retail sector. Bill Di Santo, president of national commercial contractor Englewood Construction, said his firm has recently completed a number of projects for fitness apparel brands Lululemon and Ivivva, and has also seen an uptick in construction activity from Athleta and Nike. “Developers are eager to add these ‘athleisure’ clothing brands to their tenant mix in existing shopping centers because they have such broad appeal,” he said. “They draw in fitness enthusiasts, as well as shoppers who simply appreciate the athletic-casual fashion trend that is so popular right now.”

DeRouin said although he expects the growth of non-traditional fitness facilities to continue, it’s difficult to predict which concepts will be a grand slam with consumers. “A few years ago, I don’t think anyone would have expected ping-pong clubs like SPiN to become as common as bowling alleys,” said DeRouin. “What we do know is that there’s no shortage of people looking for new ways to stay active and healthy, suggesting we’re still in the early innings of the alternative fitness trend.”

Bear Paddle Swim Club is among the athletic-oriented facilities helping to fill vacant retail space created by the contraction of many traditional retailers.

Bear Paddle Swim Club is among the athletic-oriented facilities helping to fill vacant retail space created by the contraction of many traditional retailers.