Orion Township’s bid to purchase the Great Lakes Athletic Club was successful. The expected closing date is on or before Dec. 15, said Orion Twp. Supervisor Chris Barnett. Photo by Megan Kelley.
Transition plan to new community center is in the works
By Jim Newell
ORION TWP. — Orion Township won its bid to purchase the Great Lakes Athletic Club after a judge ruled that the township had the best bid proposal.
“We haven’t closed yet but the court entered the order. It will be ours on or before Dec. 15,” said Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett. “
The township now plans to turn the club into a community center while still keeping the fitness component of the building, which also has an indoor and outdoor pool.
The township paid $9 million for the athletic club, and has budgeted the purchase across several township funds, including the general fund and the parks and recreation fund balances.
“The value of the building and the property is in the mid-$20 million range. We knew we could spend up to $10 million with the money that we’ve set aside in a few different areas without raising taxes and pull this off. We’re happy with the $9 million purchase price,” Barnett said.
On Nov. 7, Barnett and township attorney Dan Kelley went to the Bodman PLC law firm in Detroit and went through the auction process for the property.
“The only two qualified bidders were the township and Lifetime Fitness,” Barnett said.
Later that evening, the township board held a special meeting and officially adopted a resolution approving the purchase, Barnett said.
“We took comments from about 10-15 people, mostly questions were about why would the township do this and what’s our plan,” Barnett said.
On Nov. 8 the Barnett and Kelley were in the 6th Circuit Court in front of Judge Victoria Valentine.
“She entered the order and that basically made it ours, pending us closing on it before Dec. 15,” Barnett said.
For now, the township will maintain the status quo of the facility.
“It’s definitely going to be a transition period. We know that Great Lakes Athletic Club currently serves thousands of members. We’re in the process of meeting with the current staff,” Barnett said. “It’s going to take us months to really make any changes. In the interim, we want to run it as close to the current members’ experience as in the past.”
There are around 100 employees, mostly part time, who Barnett plans to meet with this week. He said there will not be any massive layoffs.
“We need them. We don’t have the staff to operate the gym. We’re meeting with the staff this week to offer the majority of them, if not all of them, positions to keep operating in their current capacities. I’ll be overseeing all of those operations. (Parks & Rec. Director) Aaron (Whatley) will help, but I’m going to champion this in the interim when we’re working with the current employees,” Barnett said. “If they’re doing their job, they’re going to have a job with us.”
As for when the club will become the township’s community center, Barnett said they are working with a consultant now and are developing a plan.
“It will be a very deliberate and well-thought-out transition plan. We don’t want to make a move that we regret. We want to make sure that we’re doing this right. It will be a very deliberate and methodical march to a transition from the current Great Lakes Athletic Club to more of a community center,” Barnett said. “If you had to nail me on the timeline, I’d say probably a 6-12 months timeframe for the transition.”
The athletic club also currently leases space to outside businesses, and for now, those deals will remain, Barnett said, adding that that made the difference in the township’s bid.
“One thing I’m really proud of – and the thing that set our bid apart from Lifetime Fitness’s bid – was that we we’re honoring the lease of the café, Standard & Co. Café, while Lifetime was terminating it,” Barnett said. “I’m excited because it gives an amenity to our residents who visit the building. We don’t have to staff it, I don’t have to train people on how to be safe, certified and serve food. It’s a win-win.
“And actually we found out that by honoring their lease, that was the difference in our bid being the winning bid at the auction. Lifetime actually bid more money than us,” Barnett said. “We’re supporting a local business and it’s open to the public. You don’t have to be a member of the gym. Anybody can go there anytime. I think it will bring more people into the building, too.”