An upscale, pricier LA Fitness—complete with amenities like towel service and a whirlpool—might be coming to Wynnewood Shopping Center if granted zoning relief. The 'Signature' LA Fitness would be the first of its kind in eastern Pennsylvania, according to Chad Abramo, LA Fitness vice president.
Federal Realty, the owner of the Wynnewood Shopping Center, went before the Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board on Thursday night to seek a special exception that would allow a fitness center use in the former Borders space. Currently, the C-1 space is occupied by Affordable Home Furnishings, which Lower Merion retail coordinator Heidi Tirjan told Patch last month was on a month-to-month lease.
"We want a long-term, solid tenant, and we’re excited to have LA Fitness join our tenant roster," began Federal Realty development manager David Joss on Thursday.
The 'Signature' LA Fitness would offer a variety of workout options, including spinning classes, pilates, yoga and Zumba classes—along with towel service and toiletries, a whirlpool and a sauna in the locker room, according to Abramo. Babysitting services for children ages 3 months to 12 years would also be provided while parents are working out.
By the Numbers
Abramo estimated 800 to 850 workouts to occur over the span of a day in Wynnewood, based on numbers at a Signature club in Secaucus, New Jersey with a similar customer demographic. The peak use there is 65 workouts in an hour, Abramo said.
A typical Signature club has fewer members than a regular LA Fitness—such as the one on City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd, also managed by Federal Realty—because of a higher price point, Abramo said.
Members of the Bala Cynwyd gym or other LA Fitness centers would need to upgrade their memberships in order to use the signature facility.
While building another LA Fitness in the township might seem superfluous, Abramo noted that most gym members prefer facilities that are within three or four miles of their home, or facilities that are on their route from work to home.
LA Fitness typically sees its biggest spikes in use between 6 and 9 a.m. and again from 4 to 8 p.m., before and after members go to work. About 70 percent of workouts occur during the week, with lower usage on the weekend, according to Abramo.
The hours for the proposed gym, though, have not yet been decided. While most LA Fitness gyms are open 5 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday with shortened hours over the weekend, LA Fitness would request permission to be open as much as 24 hours a day, Abramo said.
Parking, Traffic, Crime, Hiring Concerns
Zoning board members and residents raised questions and concerns with parking, traffic and crime.
While the shopping center's number of parking spaces meets zoning requirements, zoning board members still wondered how a gym might affect the shopping center's parking and traffic patterns.
Zoning board member Joshua Grimes noted that during the holiday season, the entire shopping center is often completely packed.
Federal Realty has not yet conducted a traffic study to examine the potential effects of LA Fitness's occupancy, said George Broseman, attorney for Federal Realty.
Terri Simon, president of the Wynnewood Civic Association, urged that such a study is a must. She also questioned why the gym could not provide a definite answer for their expected hours of operation.
Abramo explained that at most LA Fitness centers, hours are driven by customer demand. In the construction period for 6 to 9 months prior to opening, LA Fitness typically pre-sells memberships, and hours of operation can be adjusted based on demand.
"There are some clubs that are open 24 hours, but it’s only a handful," Abramo said.
However, LA Fitness is requesting permission to be open 24 hours so it has the option of choosing to do so if the market is there.
Simon called the idea of a 24-hour fitness facility “completely inappropriate” for the surrounding residential neighborhood, with which Arthur McCloney of Shortridge Civic Association agreed.
"I’ll be blunt—I’ve heard enough testimony to get a terrible feeling in my stomach," McCloney said.
McCloney expressed concerns with crime—specifically noting that a 24/7 fitness facility could make the club a kind of late night hangout, potentially increasing late night traffic through neighborhoods.
"There are many, many, many unknowns here," McCloney said. "The Zoning Hearing Board has to be extremely careful."
Federal Realty's hearing was continued, at their request, for the next zoning board meeting on July 26.
Zoning Hearing Board member Ken Brier told the company that when they returned in two weeks, Abramo should be able to provide a detailed description of the way LA Fitness vets its employees.
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