Fitness First Says Bethesda Gym Will Stay Despite Redevelopment

by Aaron Kraut — June 27, 2013 at 11:25 am 475 10 Comments

Fitness First on Wisconsin AvenueFitness First says it is working on a deal to relocate its Bethesda gym with the developer that is planning to raze its 7904 Wisconsin Ave. property and build a 17-story apartment building.

Fitness First announced it sold 17 of its 18 locations in the D.C. area to Gold’s Gym International. The Bethesda location was not included in the sale because of the property’s pending redevelopment.

Fitness First CEO Peter Harvey told us he intends to keep the Bethesda gym going, but readers were skeptical.

Amy DiPasquale, the chief operating officer for Fitness First, posted the following comment on our post last week about the future of the Bethesda location. We haven’t been able to get in touch with DiPasquale this week. (JBG is the Chevy Chase-based development company on the apartment project):

LET ME CLEAR THE CONFUSION….. JBG is fully aware of our 5 year option to extend. We have met with them several times over the last year. The JBG companies are trying to relocate us to a building 1/2 mile down Wisconsin Avenue so they can proceed with their redevelopment before our lease expiration in 2019. However, due to the fact that the building is a different set of investors from the building we are in now,the economics of the deal must be worked out by JBG . If a deal cannot work out, then we will be holding up their redevelopment project until 2019 and staying in the 7900 location. If they can move us where the economics make sense, then we will have a brand new location, over 18,000 square feet, within the next 2 years! We love the Bethesda market and plan on continuing to service our members for years to come! Thank you

A JBG representative last December said the company was in negotiations with a grocery chain to take over most of the roughly 20,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space in the apartment project, which JBG hopes to break ground on early next year.

Fitness First sent an email to members on Wednesday night about access to the Bethesda gym as the rest of the locations transfer to Gold’s Gym. Harvey says Bethesda members will have their gym “for many years to come”:

It’s official!!! Fitness First has transferred ownership, for 17 of the 18 clubs, to Gold’s Gym International. As part of the deal, we continue to retain ownership of our Bethesda club, and look forward to focusing all of our attention on serving the Bethesda commmunity. We understand that there are lingering rumors and uncertainty regarding the future of that location. However, we want you to know that we plan on operating that club for many years to come. Our lease provides us with the right to exercise a 5 year option, and we intend on doing just that!

Access to the Bethesda location:

If you joined the Bethesda club, you have access to that club an do other Gold’s (former Fitness First) locations. If you do not use Bethesda, but originally joined there, you may cancel at the Bethesda club, and then re-join the Gold’s location of your choice. Please note that this is only allowed if you have fulfilled your original term. If you originally joined any other Gold’s (former Fitness First) location but wish to use Bethesda, you must join the Bethesda club and cancel at the original club in which you joined. You may always opt for 2 memberships.

Please note, we are not charging Fitness First members additional fees to join Bethesda as a result of this acquisition. We wish this transition to be as smooth and painless as possible. Gold’s will be sending a letter in the next couple of days, detailing any information you will need to know, regarding membership options for those that are affected by this acquisition.

  • Teyo

    What a hassle, just so they can try and milk more money out of everyone involved. The comment posted by FF mgmt on the previous BethesdaNow post was essentially a threat to JBG that if they don’t give them a nicer location they’ll make their lives difficult. I hope JBG calls their bluff and uses eminent domain to take the space over. This is a blatant money grab on the part of Fitness First.

    • lisalon

      I don’t know, does JBG really have the right to just kick them out of their location?

    • Observer

      Eminent domain doesn’t work that way. JBG would have to convince government authorities that there is a general need to take over the space. A private party can’t just decide to break contracts on its own and claim eminent domain.

      Apart from that, why is FF at fault here? They signed a lease. Don’t they deserve to receive the benefits of that contract, for the specified period? JBG wants to kick them out, but JBG (or a previous owner) signed that contract too. It’s hard to have too much sympathy for a sophisticated company in this situation. If they want to speed up the redevelopment, then make arrangements for FF to move to another suitable space.

      • Teyo

        According to last week’s post, the CEO of FF gloated about the fact that JBG wasn’t made aware of the contract extension before they signed up for the space. Who is at fault for that omission will have to be sorted out with lawyers, I’m sure.

        The reason I suggested eminent domain is that the project that JBG announced might be seen by MoCo as contributing much more to the county (new residents, grocery store, etc) than leaving the lot as is (mostly empty with the exception of a third rate gym). There is precedent in this case, so I think FF is playing a dangerous game by trying to milk this. On the other hand, any eminent domain action and lawsuits associated with it would likely push back JBG’s schedule as well, so they might be willing to do a deal with FF just to get them out of their hair.

        As an outsider looking in on this with no interests either way, I just feel like FF’s CEO comes off looking bad as he not only negatively impacted his Bethesda costumers by leaving them out of the Gold’s Gym sale, he’s now negatively impacting the future of the neighborhood with what appears to be a blatant money grab. I feel like if he ends up getting the new facility that he’s asking for from JBG, he’ll sell it to Gold’s anyway.

        • Laughing

          Teyo, you just sound stupid.

    • Average Joe

      Wow Teyo! Reading comprehension is not your strong suit.

      I’m in agreement with Observer. Your comments are equally imaginative and reckless. As I understand it, it was the Landlord that wouldn’t cooperate with FF. You may want to put some energy into fact-finding instead of fashioning instigating phrases.

      Food for thought — would FF likewise be at fault here in your eyes if your “hope” came true and your taxpayer dollars were spent by the County in litigating over an abusive and illegitimate condemnation proceeding triggered by private interests?

  • Kelly D

    Where on Wisconsin Ave would Fitness First move to? And which way? Toward Bradley Blvd or toward NIH?

  • peanutgallery

    So here’s my situation. I joined at Bethesda. Does this mean it’s business as usual for me, and I can go to Bethesda, Rockville, DC… whatever location that was a former FF?

    Here’s another situation- Wife joined at a non-Bethesda location. She’ll have to get another membership to Bethesda to have the same access that we both did before the acquisition?

  • Annoyed

    Well, I originally signed up at the Bethesda location five years ago and was told just yesterday I can no longer go to my usual locations, Rockville and Dupont Circle, because I’m not a member anymore. I was told I had to go in person to the Bethesda FF and cancel my membership, then join the Gold’s location, and they weren’t sure about pricing or if I would have to pay a new initiation fee. There were two other people at the front desk being told the same thing.

    • Laughing

      Things should stay exactly how you want, because it would be most convenient to you. Forget about all of the people who have their lives invested in these companies, I think you should have access to gyms you always had because it will be more convenient for you and save you $29 monthly.


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