Downtown health club proposed; Plan would use part of HyTower

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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Downtown Toledo could become noticeably healthier soon: a group of Michigan companies is hoping to open a full-service health club on the bottom floors of the Fiberglas Tower.

“We think it would be a great thing for the community,” said Lou Eyde, a partner in Lansing-based Eyde Co., which owns the tower. “We know there is a need in downtown Toledo, and we want to fill it.”

The project would involve converting two or three floors of the Fiberglas Tower – now known as the HyTower – into a facility with a pool, a running track, and a complete gymnasium. Its biggest remaining hurdle, according to project leaders: getting the city to approve the project and provide unspecified economic assistance.

Along with Mr. Eyde, project partners would include the architectural firm Hobbs & Black, and MedSports, a company that operates several health club facilities in the Midwest.

“We want to get the ball rolling now,” said Tom Stokes, vice president of the Ann Arbor-based Hobbs & Black. “The Fiberglas Tower is an optimal site.”

Project leaders said that city officials have so far been sympathetic to their efforts. Mr. Stokes said that downtown development director Tara Barney had made a “verbal agreement” to give project leaders support.

Ms. Barney said yesterday that the city is “very interested in their concept. And the Eydes have been very aggressive, and that is very appealing.” But she said, until solid cost estimates are available, no proposal could become the city’s favorite.

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has repeatedly stated that one of his top priorities for downtown revitalization is the creation of a downtown health club facility. He is traveling in Honduras for the remainder of the week and could not be reached for comment.

Eyde Co. has experience with putting athletic facilities on its properties. It owns the property in East Lansing, Mich., on which the Michigan Athletic Club sits. The MAC has more than 9,000 members and more than 300,000 square feet of space.

“We’ve got the Michigan State athletic director as a member,” Mr. Eyde said.

Hobbs & Black has worked on more than a dozen athletic facilities across Michigan, including the Detroit Pistons practice facility and the Sports and Special Events Arena at Eastern Michigan University. MedSports operates several facilities around Michigan, including the MAC.

Mr. Stokes said his office presented the idea for the project to Eyde Co., which then took it to city officials.

He said the Fiberglas Tower location is good because of its proximity to businesses along Summit, St. Clair, and Superior streets, as well as apartment buildings such as the LaSalle and the Commodore Perry.

Eyde Co. also owns the former Toledo Trust building, once Ohio’s tallest structure, and plans to turn it into housing. That building’s residents would be near the proposed facility.

But Mr. Stokes did say he would be willing to consider other locations around downtown.

He said the next step is a larger study on how the facility would fare economically downtown. He said it is normal for downtown facilities to lose money in their first few years, so the study would determine how big those losses would be and how much assistance the health club would need from local officials.

“It might mean financing from the port [the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority], or grants from the city,” Mr. Stokes said.

Mr. Stokes and Mr. Eyde said a club could be in operation within a year.

One potential hitch: Mr. Stokes said he isn’t sure whether the city has decided to press for another health club site.

Last week, Mr. Finkbeiner began pushing for a new ice arena to be built downtown, next door to the SeaGate Centre. Some downtown leaders, including Sports Arena owner Tim Gladieux and Jim Donnelly, president of the Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, have said that a health club could be located in the arena complex.

Ms. Barney said an arena site is an appealing option. She said the prospect of having Toledo Storm hockey players using the facility alongside nonathletes might appeal to some. But she emphasized that the key factor in the success of a downtown facility would be how close it is to downtown workers seeking to work out at lunchtime.

“It’s got to be walkable by the noontime user,” she said.

She said “three or four” concepts have promise, but none of them has cost estimates.