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Downtown Macon Health Club closing while litigation continues

Members oppose Navicent Health closing Macon Health Club

Former Macon Mayor and Middle Georgia Congressman Jim Marshall and Mercer Law Professor Dave Oedel say closing the downtown institution that dates to the 19th century is wrong.
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Former Macon Mayor and Middle Georgia Congressman Jim Marshall and Mercer Law Professor Dave Oedel say closing the downtown institution that dates to the 19th century is wrong.

When the downtown Macon Health Club closes its doors Saturday afternoon, it’s unclear if it will ever reopen.

Macon Health Club Inc., the former owner of the club, sought to lease the space after the current operator, The Medical Center, Navicent Health, announced plans to close the facility last year.

Located on the corner of First and Cherry streets, the facility first opened in 1908 as a YMCA.

The Medical Center filed suit earlier this year, asking a judge to decide whether the hospital is still bound by terms of a 1991 agreement signed by the hospital when it took over operations from the Macon Health Center Inc. The agreement gave Macon Health Center Inc. an option to lease the facility if the hospital chose to close it before Dec. 13, 2020.

The hospital contends that Macon Health Center Inc. failed to remain an active corporation and cannot transfer its rights to Macon Health Club Inc. — a newer organization made up of the same people — to enforce the agreement.

The hospital has maintained that Macon Health Club doesn’t have standing in the case, and it filed a motion asking a Bibb County Superior Court judge to rule on the issue without a jury trial.

Bibb County Superior Court Judge David Mincey denied the motion March 31, ruling instead that a jury should decide whether The Medical Center is still bound by the agreement.

In his order, Mincey required the hospital to keep the health club open through this weekend — it’s open till 3 p.m. on Saturdays and is closed on Sundays — and he instructed the parties to participate in mediation.

The hospital said in a statement that it is asking the Georgia Court of Appeals to review Mincey’s decision that the matter is one for a jury to decide.

It’s unclear when the appellate court will rule.

Jim Marshall, a health club member and spokesman for the group wanting to keep the club open, said his group and the hospital met for a mediation session April 20. The parties weren’t able to reach an agreement, but Marshall said the two parties still are negotiating.

“We each have very different views of what’s the right thing to do here,” he said.

A message from club member Darin McClure to other members Friday said that The Medical Center had declined the latest settlement offer from Macon Health Club Inc. without proposing an alternative. The message said the group had asked Mincey to extend the window again, but “we do not know” what the judge will decide.

“Whether the club is closed for a day, a week, a month or longer, we intend to pursue our rights with diligence while also continuing our efforts to reach a reasonable settlement both sides can live with,” the message said in part. "Our club and this place is special because of our members ... that respect each other, speak to each other, encourage each other and enjoy being there together. ... And we honor each other by standing together to the end, whatever that end may be."

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon.

Oby Brown: 478-744-4396, @obybrownGA

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