There is something to be said for bright, shiny exercise equipment and space. There is also something to be said about a comfortable old friend. The Macon Health Club is as comfy as an old pair of jeans. Certainly there are a few holes, and, these old jeans have a certain scent, but there’s something about them. They fit well.
The Macon Health Club has sat on the corner of First and Cherry streets, under one name or another, for 108 years and is now owned by Navicent Health as part of an agreement signed in 1991 between Macon Health Center Inc., and what was then the Medical Center of Central Georgia. No one in their right mind would build such a health club today. The building combines racquetball courts, full and half court basketball, swimming pool, locker rooms, steam room, saunas, weight room, jogging track and various other areas in a sort of haphazard arrangement. The equipment is as old or older than many of its members. Still, its downtown location is a plus for people working in the area.
Unfortunately, the membership has not been able to expand with the cost of upkeep and operation and Navicent announced earlier this year that the club would close at the end of 2016. This is not the first time the club has faced closure since turning the building over in 1991. In 2008 the Medical Center said it would close the club the following year because it was losing too much money. The Medical Center was running about a $100,000 annual deficit. Members agreed to assess themselves additional fees to upgrade the equipment and NewTown pitched in to raise money for capital improvements.
This time it’s different. There is more competition than ever for the exercise dollar, and it’s difficult for a club, even one as old and venerable as the Macon Health Club to keep up without a heavy dose of tender loving care. And it may get just that.
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In the initial agreement between the health club and the Medical Center, a pretty smart lawyer and then president of Macon Health Center Inc., former mayor and congressman Jim Marshall, put a clause in the agreement that gave Macon Health Center Inc., the option to lease the space and resume control of the operation if the hospital decided to close the club before Dec. 2020.
Last week, Marshall notified Navicent by letter that Macon Health would exercise that option. This gives the club six months from the receipt of the letter where Navicent has to continue to operate the club. Navicent has acknowledged receipt of the letter and the tone of Navicent’s statement seems to welcome the discussions. After all, Navicent made a business decision. Nobody relishes closing a place where people have been gathering for more than a century. Those discussions could open a number of possibilities. Macon Health Center and Navicent could partner in outreach and health programs. After all, they will be in the same business, both concerned with the health of the community. They could still, for an example, offer joint memberships to the Wellness Center and the Macon Health Club.
Now the hard work begins. Macon Health Center Inc., has to decide what kind of club it has to become in order to be financially viable. It can’t remain static, that would only lead it back to death’s door. What will keep old members in the fold while reaching out to rebuild membership? Downtown space is becoming very attarctive. Can some of the club’s space be utilized for other purposes? Remember, the club used to be a YMCA? Could lofts be in the club’s future? How do you change while making sure the club retains the same spirit where members fix what’s wrong with the world during their daily discussions? It will be interesting to see what creative ideas come out of this process.