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LA Fitness Eyes Wynnewood Shopping Center For Upscale, 'Signature' Gym

The gym, proposed for the former Borders space, would like the option to be a 24-hour facility.

An upscale, pricier LA Fitness—complete with amenities like towel service and a whirlpool—might be coming to 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 , 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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A. Friend July 13, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Having a gym in Wynnewood is a great idea. It will attract customers from all over the area and will expand our township's horizons. To those worried about others coming in from outside the township, I would respectfully respond that diversity is a good thing to be welcomed, not a bad thing to be feared. We are right next to a major city and should embrace it, not shut it out.
Bob Guzzardi July 13, 2012 at 10:29 PM
I would think that LAFitness has done marketing research determining that there is market. The Zoning Board does not have competence or expertise to make marketing decision which is best left to consumers and businesses.
Bob Guzzardi July 13, 2012 at 10:31 PM
There is more opposition to this than to the Dranoff Ardmore Center which will have a negative impact and which is forcibly subsidized by taxpayer. It has to be subsidized because there is little consumer demand. Lower Merion has spend $6 million studying this.
Patch Reader July 13, 2012 at 10:53 PM
I'd say do something to improve the traffic flow into and out of the various entrances to the parking lot, and this sounds like a very good idea.
Linda Elkins July 14, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Still all for it...if we leave it empty (renting to monthly's like the dismal furniture store or Halloween adventure) the rest of shopping center will fail sooner rather than later. We need to breathe some life back into shopping center before it too late. Talk to the smaller merchants whose business has seriously declined since Borders left.
Teri Simon July 14, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Douglas Martindale has his facts wrong. The Giant will be open from 6 AM to 11 PM daily, and the people questioning the LA FItness use are not "NIMBY." The Wynnewood and Shortridge Civic Associations were not objecting to the use of the facility as a fitness center. We were voicing our concerns about traffic patterns and the hours of operation. The Giant's hours were decided years ago by Lower Merion's Board of Commissioners, and we believe the fitness center's hours should be the same. The Wynnewood Shopping Center is smack dab in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood. It is just plain wrong to have a gym open 24/7 in such a location. In fact, there are no other LA Fitness locations in a ten-mile radius that are open 24/7 so obviously the LA Fitness folks have determined there simply is not enough patronage to warrant the additional hours. If LA Fitness needs a 24/7 facility, it already has the location -- the facility on City Avenue which is on a major highway/road: Route One -- City Avenue -- and is not right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Ms. Connelly has it right -- many of us would have been thrilled to have a Ritz Theatre in our neighborhood. A 24/7 LA Fitness is not a good use for the former building. LA Fitness has done much harm to its cause by demanding the facility be open 24/7 -- it is the party that has made a supportive community much less so.
Teri Simon July 14, 2012 at 06:33 PM
That's exactly what the civic associations are trying to do. Improve traffic flow and circulation and make certain the hours of operation are consistent with those of the Giant. No one is objecting to the use though many of us would like to have seen a new bookstore in that space. Kind of surprising, isn't it, that our first-class township has no bookstore? There are many people who still read books and don't have Kindles. A bookstore would have been nice though we are realistic and understand the probability of that was nil. The civics don't want vacancies in the center but we also don't want round-the-clock uses that will further degrade the community's quality of life.
Teri Simon July 14, 2012 at 06:44 PM
A correction -- now that LA Fitness has decided the facility must be open 24/7, the civics will be formally objecting to the use.
Mary-Fran Connelly July 14, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Having read all the above, I think that the compromise on times is the answer. This was an informative debate. And I more than sympathize with moms needing a close spot, and working people needing something later. (I myself work noon-8:30 PM in KOP.) And we do need a viable business in that cornerstone spot.
Teri Simon July 14, 2012 at 07:03 PM
You are correct, Ms. Connelly. Had LA Fitness agreed that the fitness center would be open from 6 AM to 11 PM (like many of its other centers), and had they agreed to study and address our traffic/circulation/parking concerns, we would not even be having this debate.
Douglas Martindale July 14, 2012 at 07:41 PM
I do think stating that the LA fitness will be "smack dab" in the middle of a residential neighborhood is slightly misleading. It's on the North end of a commercial district bounded, yes by some residential property, but also Lancaster and Wynnewood road which itself is bordered by a train. My overall frustration is that everything regarding business in the township is negative. There seems to be a "naysayer" mentality whenever any business proposes anything. Moreover, I strongly feel all the concerns get completely blown out of proportion, and normally by those that have no real stake in the outcome. While we all want our township to be a certain way, doing so while infringing on our neighbors private property rights seems intrusive. Sure I would rather a book store back in that spot, but it's simply not something where there is enough consumer demand to support that. I just can't believe that we are now going to micromanage each entrepreneur that would like to do business in our township, especially in this disaster of an economy.
Teri Simon July 14, 2012 at 08:09 PM
FYI -- the Wynnewood Shopping Center is split-zoned C-1 and R-7. The R-7 zone makes up (I think) about half of the shopping center. It is the R-7 zone, interestingly enough, that is adjacent to Lancaster Avenue. All of the other streets surrounding the shopping center, save for Wynnewood Road, are residentially-zoned. So the streets most affected by this proposed 24/7 use will be Williams, Clover Hill, Cedar Grove and Penn Roads. These are quiet residential streets. Penn Road certainly has lots of traffic but that doesn't change its essential nature as a mostly quiet residential street. The other Shortridge streets are most definitely quiet, sleepy and residential and will feel the impacts from a round-the-clock use even more intensely. There needs to be a balance between the rights of a private property owner/business and the private property owners/residents who pay most of the real estate/school taxes. Community residents have rights, too, to enjoy their properties and their quality of life without the disturbance intense commercial (or institutional) uses bring. No one suggested LA Fitness not be allowed to operate in a manner respectful of the neighborhood it finds itself in. When the civics believed that was its intent, there was reluctant acceptance (at first) of the idea. Later there actually started to be enthusiasm for a really nice facility people could walk to. Now that enthusiasm is gone. LA Fitness appears not to want to be a good neighbor.
Bob Guzzardi July 14, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Lower Merion has six libraries, more than any other municipality in Penna, except perhaps Philadelphia and that does not count the university libraries. These libraries provide all the services of a bookstore at taxpayer expense, what some people call "free". Downtown some gyms are open 24/7 because there are people, mostly employees, like those at Lankenau which operates 24/7 and those people cannot work out on conventional hours. I would expect that LAFitness has done market research that shows there is a need for 24/7. 24/7 may well increase well being and improve a standard of living. The government would not know what we need and don't need and, as far as I know, there is no one on zoning board with experience in fitness business. Trust the people, that is, trust the consumer to decide. It seems to me presumptuous to tell people what they should want. In any event, after a lot of drama, I expect the use to be approved just as the City Ave zoning was approved which has far, far greater impact than one 24/7 gym. And the Dranoff Ardmore Center, which also has far greater impact, would have been approved had the financing been available despite the disruption in traffic flow. I expect that the first hearing was an opening gambit and, eventually, like Brian O'Neill's project, it will be approved. I think businesses pay a disproportionate share of taxes so fewer business shifts tax burden to residences.
Bob Guzzardi July 14, 2012 at 10:51 PM
There are probably reasons that LAFitness thinks there is a need for a 24/7 facility. It is hard to see how traffic could be that heavy. Usually, gyms draw from a one mile radius so most of the users would be from neighborhood. Maybe the objectors could get together and finance a Ritz Theater. It is unlikely that income would exceed expense but if that is what you want, then build it. Interesting how so many have good ideas about how other people should spend their money.
Bob Guzzardi July 14, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Correct the attitude toward business is negative except if you are connected like Carl Dranoff or the City Ave property owners or Joe Manko who "advised" Brian O'Neill.
Loni N July 15, 2012 at 12:09 PM
I think the gym would be a good idea. The Bala location is always packed this will allow some members of the Bala location to upgrade and use the wynnewood location. It will bring more people to the Wynnewood area espcially those who live in Overbrook and West Philly to be able to work out. Therefore, not having to drive all the way down city ave. I go to AFC in Bala and people will be willing to pay more for a high quality gym. Because its worth it, thats why I likey gym. So the issue of people not wanting to pay the higher cost membership is not that big if a deal. It would bring a lot of continued revenue into the area.
Barbara and Raymond Price July 15, 2012 at 01:14 PM
I am very excited about the possibility of a fitness center opening in the Wynnewood shopping center. I hope they don't out price themselves. With Planet Fitness very close by at just $10.00 a month, it would be foolish of them to have a high membership fee. Barbara Price Wynnewood, Pa.
A. Friend July 15, 2012 at 05:30 PM
You are very aptly named.
Lee July 16, 2012 at 04:49 AM
The number of results from a Google search is really not a good measurement of the severity of the problem. Millions of those results likely have nothing to do with crime at LA fitness. Detailed crime statistics mapped to LA Fitness locations carefully analyzed would tell you if there is actually a problem. But that would take more effort than a two second search on Google.
Jay Waxman July 16, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Dear Lee, Thank you for your thoughtful comments this morning on my earlier post regarding the more than 30 Million Google search results from the words: LA Fitness crime In your response, 1) You suggested that a two second search on Google was superficial, a point with which I completely agree. Of course, after doing the two second search, one needs to spend a few hours reading and analyzing the information. 2) In your response, you stated: “millions of those results likely have nothing to do with crime at LA Fitness” a point with which I disagree. Have you taken the time to review the Google search results? In my earlier post, I indicated that my wife and I attended the meeting of the Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board on July 12. At the Zoning meeting, I testified that I do not yet have an opinion on whether the Zoning Board should grant the special exception to LA Fitness. In fact, I would welcome a gym in Wynnewood whose management across the USA has demonstrated the ability to be a good neighbor and a good corporate citizen especially in the area of public safety. The Google search results raise concerns about LA Fitness across the US in the areas of public safety and pre-employment screening of employees. The fact that LA Fitness is requesting permission to be open 24 hours raises additional concerns about their ability to be a good neighbor. Regards, Jay Waxman
Bob Guzzardi July 16, 2012 at 02:06 PM
To be accurate, I think a compare and contrast would be necessary. For example, what are crime statistics at Bed Bath and Beyond which is in same complex. What are crime statistics for Bala Cynwyd LAFitness. To target one business without a context would not produce useful results. My tenant and fried runs a gym in center city and there is little or no crime in or in front of gym. It is in center city and crime is certainly rampant near by but gym is not a cause but a deterrent.
Teri Simon July 16, 2012 at 07:32 PM
The 12th Street Gym, about which you write, is regularly lauded on-line, unlike LA Fitness, for the terrific quality of services provided, the competence of its staff, its efforts to keep its facility clean and for other attributes. It's a gym that has been there for years and has a dedicated and loyal following. Even it, right on 12th Street in Center City Philadelphia, is NOT OPEN 24/7, when one could reasonably argue it should be. Here are its hours from its website: Monday - Thursday: 5:30am - 11:00pm Friday: 5:30am - 10:00pm Saturday: 8:00am - 8:00pm Sunday: 8:00am - 7:00pm How different are these from what the civics are reasonably requesting? We have asked LA Fitness to operate the facility from 6 AM to 11 PM, the same as the Giant. The 12th Street Gym could very easily be open 24/7 but it has chosen not to be. It services a demographic that might want it (Jefferson and PA Hospitals are nearby) but even the 12th Street Gym has determined that 24/7 is not in its best business and/or client interests. The 12th Street Gym is a first-class facility smack dab in the middle of commercial/residential mecca. It's had plenty of time to decide what works and what doesn't. That it has decided 24/7 is not the way to go speaks volumes about what a really good operation has decided is in its best interests. LA FItness would do well to learn from the example set by the 12th Street Gym in all aspects of its business including hours of operation.
Teri Simon July 16, 2012 at 07:54 PM
One more thing -- Epinions is a pretty good place to get a wide range of comments about places, products or services. I check it whenever I am buying an appliance, etc. Click on this link to see what some folks are saying about our new neighbor, LA FItness: http://www.epinions.com/reviews/well-Fitness-Gyms-All-L_A__Fitness?sb=1
Mary-Fran Connelly July 16, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Teri, my experience at the LAF in BC was also dreadful. Their staff are in retail, not Fitness. My free Personal Trainer session was a waste of 40 minutes. e.g. Exercises he showed me made my knees hurt a lot. He had no ideas on what else to do. When I stopped going there and said I was taking a break, they kept charging my Visa! I finally talked to a lot of someones in another state, and finally had them reverse most of the charges, but not all. That company is a rip off. In my prior comments I didn't say all this, since so many respondents just look for anything to criticize or argue ad hominum. But after reading the "epinions" above, I saw that my experience was quite normal. They are the Walmart of fitness.
Teri Simon July 17, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Mary-Fran: The Epinions do support the notion that your experience at LA Fitness is pretty typical. There is even more stuff out there that is striking in its similarity to what the Epinions reviewers noted and what you experienced. See the following link for additional reports of a similar kind: http://www.my3cents.com/reviews/la_fitness The Wynnewood Shopping Center does have great potential to be a very special, small, pedestrian-friendly and walkable shopping center. Why Federal Realty would choose to allow a tenant like LA Fitness, with the reputation it appears to have nationally (from reports on the web and elsewhere), to operate 24/7 is really hard to fathom. That said, it would be great to have a place like the 12th Street Gym make its home in the old Borders space. It really has been striking to read the glowing reviews their customers give and then compare them to what people say about LA Fitness. What a lost opportunity for our community and for the shopping center!
SPB July 17, 2012 at 02:49 PM
For people who actually live in this area and do not work bankers' hours (if such things still exist!), having the opportunity to work or shop in the late night or early morning hours would be welcomed.
SPB July 17, 2012 at 02:50 PM
oops--I meant work out in late night or early morning hours....
Sage July 18, 2012 at 05:17 AM
I grew up in the area. LA Fitness will be a bad addition to the shopping center. I've been to their centers in other cities and they are pretty awful. If a fitness center is a good fit then why not try to get a good place like Main Line Health and Fitness? That's a great gym where my family has worked out for years. What people say online has a lot of truth to it -- LA Fitness is a bottom feeder fitness center. They care more about marketing than fitness. Too bad for my old neighborhood and for my family that the best whoever owns the center can do is LA FItness. Pretty sad. Borders was wonderful and I have a lot of happy memories of it. Now there will be a dirty, sceevy, maybe crime-ridden LA FItness! Read the reviews people! YUCK!
Bob Guzzardi July 24, 2012 at 04:37 PM
LAFitness The Worst Gym in Philadelphia http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2012/07/24/worst-gym-philadelphia/
Pamela July 31, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Sage is right. "Bottom feeder fitness center." The only gym at a lower level is Planet Fitness which is, oh yeah, right in MY backyard (let's put all the auto dealerships and crap in Ardmore).

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