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The Fitness Club Puts the Moves on Specialty Filaments

Local Matters


Published May 30, 2006 at 6:59 p.m.

BURLINGTON -- Voters rejected a plan in March 2005 to move the Greater Burlington YMCA to the Moran Plant on Burlington's Waterfront, but Y President and CEO Tim Rollings says that doesn't change the fact that the athletic club still needs to move somewhere. And soon.

Several Y members have contacted Seven Days recently to report that the Y will be moving into the former Specialty Filaments building on Pine Street. Are the locker-room rumors true?

Rollings confirms that the organization is investigating the site. The Y has looked at more than 40 others so far, but Rollings sounds optimistic about the former manufacturing building. "It's a great space," he says. "It's close to [downtown], it's on a busline, a bike path." And, he adds, there's plenty of parking and drop-off/pick-up space.

As of now, he's unable to say if or when the Y might move. "My timeline would be tomorrow," he says. "But there's a process."

That process includes consultations with lawyers and architects to see if the site is suitable for a health club. Rollings has already been on a walk-through of the 103,000 square foot space.

Not that the Y would get all of it -- Doug Nedde, partner and owner of Redstone, which acquired the property in March, confirms that the company is "negotiating a potential sale" of 61,000 square feet to the Y. Redstone recently sold 48,000 square feet on the southern end to Lake Champlain Chocolates.

Are there any environmental concerns with converting a space formerly used to manufacture plastic bristles into a health club? The property went through a "Phase One" and a "Phase Two" environmental review when Redstone bought it, according to Nedde. "The building is clean," he says.

Before it puts down a deposit, the Y will also have to assess whether they can raise enough cash to refit the space. Rollings doesn't want to talk numbers, but it would certainly be costly.

However, Rollings insists that some kind of expense will be necessary to solve the current facility's serious drop-off and accessibility issues. "The Y makes no secret that we struggle here," he says. "It's a difficult building."

Their current 50,000-square-foot space was originally designed as a boarding house; at one time, the Y was one of the largest hotel chains in the country. The building has been refitted to house two swimming pools, a gym, classrooms and workout rooms, but it still has 34 staircases, with 400 steps. Rollings calls it "an accessibility nightmare."

And many of its facilities are improvised and outdated. "Our cardiovascular training area is in a former squash court," Rollings notes. "Our exercise room is in a racquetball court." The gym is so old he suggests donating it to the Smithsonian when the Y finally moves.

As bad as that sounds, the city's only health club with a gym and pools is popular among a broad cross-section of people who want to work out downtown.

In fact, other communities -- Winooski, for example -- are wooing the Y to open satellite branches. The Y already operates 23 childcare facilities around Vermont, and is the state's largest child care provider. Rollings says that program is a model for how a satellite operation might work.

But he points out that building additional Ys will probably have to wait until after the one on College Street moves. He offers an analogy: "It's like buying the summer house when the roof is leaking at your primary residence."