Fitness facility downtown gets ProMedica nod

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 11

ProMedica Health System officials have told Mayor Carty Finkbeiner that the company is interested in helping start a downtown health club.

“We would be interested in taking a role in a downtown fitness facility, in collaboration with the appropriate mix of civic and business leaders,” said ProMedica spokesman Tim Langhorst.

But he stressed that the company’s interest is not a commitment and that it is still unclear what role, if any, ProMedica might take in the project. Mr. Langhorst said the company believes that city government should take a leading role in creating a facility.

“The viability of any downtown fitness facility really depends on the commitment and support of many different parties, civic and corporate,” he said. “The city will have to bring those parties together.”

The mayor said he welcomed ProMedica’s interest but added that the company should be more active in taking charge of the project. Unless ProMedica takes a leadership role, the mayor said he will meet soon with representatives of ProMedica’s chief competitor, Mercy Health Systems, to find out whether they are interested.

ProMedica operates Toledo Hospital, Children’s Medical Center of Northwest Ohio, and Flower Hospital. Mercy operates St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, Riverside Mercy Hospital, and St. Charles Mercy Hospital.

Mr. Finkbeiner repeated yesterday that a downtown health club is “one of my top priorities.”

City officials have said it will take a combination of investors to get a facility opened. “That’s because, financially, it doesn’t look to a lot of people like a `big winner,”‘ Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Currie-Hall Investment Co. of Hudson, O., had proposed a health club and apartments when it sub mitted plans for development of the former Commodore Perry Hotel, at Jefferson Avenue and Superior Street.

But the city decided to turn the Commodore over to Toledo devel opers Bill Hirt and his son, Oliver, who are building a 132-unit apartment complex with retail and commercial shops on the first three floors.

The mayor said potential investors are seeking a guaranteed user base, perhaps through deals struck with downtown employers. He said he could envision city government or other businesses paying a fee for employees to use the facilities.

Mr. Finkbeiner said the city is in discussions with other health and fitness companies that might be interested in becoming part of the project.

Toledo economic development director Barry Broome said the city will continue to identify interested parties and potential sites, as well as discuss what a downtown fitness facility might include.

He said he hopes to have a feasibility study under way in the first half of 1999.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he hopes to have a conclusive decision by the end of August on where the facility would be and when it would open.

As for what amenities a facility would include, Mr. Finkbeiner said that will be primarily the decision of the investors, who would determine what potential customers want.

“The market has to dictate facilities,” he said. “I think there’s less of a chance for a swimming pool, because you’re really adding to the cost with that.

“A running track also adds a dimension of cost they’re not sure would be justified,” the mayor said.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he wants a downtown health club centrally located and open at least from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Toledo has been without a full-service downtown health club for nearly 20 years, when the Young Men’s Christian Association closed its downtown branch on Jefferson Avenue.

In 1996, the YMCA received help from the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority, which issued about $2.5 million in tax-exempt bonds to allow the YMCA to fund renovations and improvements at five area YMCA branches and refinance some debt.

A YMCA capital campaign, which included developing a YMCA health club in part of the Toledo Edison steam plant on Water Street that went out of service in June, 1985, foundered several years ago because of a lack of support from businesses downtown.