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Downtown Redmond Athletic Club closes its doors on Monday
When the Redmond Athletic Club (RAC) at 8709 161st Ave. N.E. in downtown closed its doors Monday night, it closed them for good.
Owner Ryan Neal said the club is closing because they lost their lease.
“The downtown Redmond market is commanding rents much higher than an athletic club can support,” he said. “We will be keeping our other location up on Redmond Ridge open for our members.”
Antione Jackson, front desk supervisor for the RAC location on Redmond Ridge, confirmed that it will just be the downtown location to close. The Redmond Ridge location will remain open.
“We’re not closing,” he said.
Neal said in the last five years or so, market rents for facilities downtown have more than doubled and the RAC’s property owner understandably wants to change the building’s use to realize these rents. Neal does not know what type of building will go up in the location now that the RAC has closed.
Steve Shinstrom, one of the property owners, said he cannot discuss their plans for the site at this moment, but they have a lot of options being presented to them. He said they will have more information on their plans in the next few weeks.
According to Redmond’s Project Viewer, a pre application for a “five story multi-family development with two levels of subterranean structured parking” is under review.
Neal said they have no plans to open another RAC location in or near downtown.
He said he and the property owners had been discussing the RAC’s possible closure for about six months and once things were finalized, they notified people as soon as they could.
“We didn’t have everything finalized until the evening of last Wednesday (Feb. 24),” he said.
Neal said RAC employees were not aware of these talks prior to this week and all employees were informed Sunday evening, though RAC management was notified a little bit earlier.
Some downtown RAC members reported receiving a letter in their email Monday regarding the closure. In addition, a message informing members that they would be receiving an email or letter in the mail with more details about the closure was posted in the gym by early Monday afternoon.
RAC member Erik Godo sent the Reporter a copy of the letter he received Monday morning.
“The notice was very sudden — last workout on the same day of the notice,” he said.
Other RAC members also commented on the short notice online on the Reporter’s website and Facebook page, expressing how they would have liked to been informed earlier.
RAC instructor Candy MacLeod added that things were hectic at the gym Monday.
“Monday was a whirlwind of a day hanging out at the RAC fielding questions and calming and consoling people,” she said. “Boy, the RAC members are a passionate group of people! At the end of my 5:30 class, everyone hung around hugging and talking to each other and grown men were crying. No joke. It’s truly like a family has just been split up.”
MacLeod said they were all “shocked and sad to say the least,” about the news of the RAC closing.
“Our club had been the last of the non cookie-cutter mega gyms,” she said. “I personally had been there since the opening in June of 1982.”
Neal, who purchased the business in 2008, said the gym moved locations a few times before landing in its final location in the late 1990s.
A SMOOTH TRANSITION
The letter Godo received states that while Monday was the last day for workouts, members’ fitness is still the club’s “highest priority and (they) want to ensure (members’ abilities) to maintain a healthy lifestyle without interruption.”
The letter continues, reading that RAC has arranged a membership transition with Gold’s Gym Redmond, which is located less than two miles from the RAC, at 7956 178th Pl. N.E.
According to the letter, the Gold’s facility is a “63,000 square-foot full-service health club with extensive cardio and strength equipment, salt-water aquatics facilities, a basketball court, towel service, eucalyptus steam rooms, cedar saunas and much more.”
RAC members’ memberships were transferred to the Gold’s Gym in Redmond on Tuesday and their normal monthly payment were to be processed as usual beginning Tuesday. The letter states that members will be billed by Gold’s Gym, instead of RAC.
In addition, RAC members are being asked to visit Gold’s Gym to receive their temporary key tag and have a picture taken for security. After that, members’ temporary membership “will be fully active for the month of March,” the letter states.
Paul Edgeman, vice president of operations for Gold's Gym for Bothell, Redmond and Issaquah, said they will honor RAC members’ rates for a minimum of six months, through August.
“We want to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible for everyone in the community,” he said.
Edgeman added that if anyone would like to discontinue their membership right now, they need to reach out to the RAC directly at email@example.com or contact the RAC's Redmond Ridge location at (425) 836-2169.
“Once the transition is further along we will have access to discontinue memberships ourselves,” he said. “We estimate two weeks.”
Neal added that they are not forcing anyone to transfer their membership to Gold’s and people will be able to cancel their membership if they wish.
Members will also be able to use the Redmond Ridge RAC location, which had been a gym under a different name and became a RAC in 2011.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Godo said he actually left Gold’s Gym and joined the RAC because it was closer to his home and now he is going back.
“The RAC was much less crowded and honestly I was worried they were going out of business,” he admitted. “Sometimes late at night I was the only person in the weight area. I hope the staff are able to find work. I presume they are going to Gold’s Gym also.”
Neal said all downtown RAC employees have either moved to the Redmond Ridge location or were forwarded to Gold’s Gym.
Former RAC member Joy Hutton had left the gym about two months ago when the RAC closed the kids’ club, its childcare service. She said that may have been an indicator that something was happening with the gym. And even though she was no longer a member, when she learned about the RAC closing, she stopped by to say goodbye to some of her friends.
“I don’t want them to have to leave,” she said about the gym.
Not all members received notice, however. One RAC member, who did not wish to be named, said she did not receive any sort notification about the facility closing before walking into the gym on Monday. She said while she was at the RAC from about 4:45-7 a.m. on Monday, there were no letters posted in the facility yet. She said she was told by employees at the front desk when she and others walked through the doorway Monday morning.
The woman said she was also not notified that their memberships would be transferred to Gold’s.
“The fact that they think it’s OK to just ‘transfer our membership’ without us signing something has to be illegal,” she said. “That information contains bank account information and if someone is going to have access to my bank account information, I want to know about it before it happens, not find out about it through the news.”
Neal said the contract members signed upon joining allows RAC to transfer the membership, though again, he said, they are not forcing anyone to transfer to Gold’s and people can cancel if they would like.
MORE THAN JUST A GYM
For Tori U’Ren, news of the RAC closing was very sudden and sad. The Redmond resident became emotional while discussing the gym’s closure.
“It’s more than just a gym for us,” she said.
U’Ren — who had been a member in the 1980s, left for a while and then returned to the RAC about five years ago — described the community as a tight-knit one and a support system that has helped people as they have gone through different things in their lives. She said prior to returning to the RAC, she belonged to a bigger gym but did not feel it was as welcoming.
For U'Ren, the RAC is more her style. When she went in — often with her son — she would use the exercise equipment as well as take fitness classes. She also noted that one of the fitness instructors at the RAC had been teaching since the 1980s and had a very strong following.
And it hasn’t been just the employees who have stayed with the RAC throughout the years.
“Some of the original members were still there, too,” MacLeod said. “The warm, friendly atmosphere and the caring employees were what kept members there. Owners Ryan and Jessie did what they could to maintain the reputation and feel of the RAC, but the surrounding growth and higher rent brought an end of an era.”
Neal understands the community RAC has provided and the Kirkland resident said closing the downtown location was not something they took lightly.
“It’s tough,” he said. “The RAC members have been like family to me.”
Neal said they would like to thank the Redmond community for its decades of support and making RAC a big part of the Redmond community.
He said they tried to figure out different ways to remain viable while accommodating the property owner. But in the end, the downtown market is very competitive and he said it is very difficult for an athletic club to survive in the downtown corridor.