Muskegon college seeks temporary operator for shuttered fitness center after $2.5M in losses

Muskegon Community College is seeking new ownership for the Lakeshore Fitness Center, at 900 W Western Ave. In this MLive file photo, children hold onto the pool wall during a swimming lesson at the fitness center in 2009, when it was the Muskegon Family YMCA.

MUSKEGON, MI – Muskegon Community College officials may reopen, perhaps temporarily, the currently closed Lakeshore Fitness Center – if someone else is willing to foot the bill.

The college discontinued operation of the 40-year-old facility in early May after it had logged $2.5 million in losses over the past five years. But after Muskegon residents expressed concerns over the fitness center’s closure, trustees are now discussing options to reopen the facility under new leadership.

The MCC Board of Trustees last week approved a request for proposals (RFP) seeking bids for an interim operator to reopen the fitness center, at 900 W Western Ave., for the next six months, allowing its members to come back and use the facility.

The fitness center has been closed since March 19, the same day MCC closed its campus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trustees are seeking an agreement where MCC would still own the facility but would not have any financial responsibility. The operator would cover all costs of operation and maintenance, but would also have control over membership rates, according to college documents.

Proposals must be submitted to the board by Sept. 15 and oral presentations with the board would take place in October, documents show.

The interim ownership would give the college time to consider other long-term options for the facility, trustees said.

MCC purchased the former YMCA building for $1.17 million in 2015. Since then, MCC lost an average of $500,000 every year in annual operation costs, according to college officials.

Trustee Kathy Moore previously said the college – which is currently facing a $4 million budget shortfall as a result of the coronavirus crisis – could not continue to bear the burden of operating the Lakeshore Fitness Center, which came with costly operational losses and maintenance expenses.

After voting to discontinue operation of the facility May 1, trustees agreed that the next step forward would be to work with the community at large for input on the facility’s future.

The 60,000-square-foot fitness center has a lap pool, hot tub, strength training equipment, exercise studios, basketball courts and an indoor track. It offers exercise classes, health programs, childcare and massage therapy.

During the last two board of trustees meetings, several developers have approached the board during public comment to express interest in purchasing the Lakeshore Fitness Center.

David Medendorp and Michael Kordecki approached the board May 20 with interest in purchasing the fitness center, and Jon Rooks, developer and owner of Parkland Properties, told the board on June 17 he was interested in turning the property into a mixed-use facility, board minutes show.

What will happen with the property in the long run is still up in the air. The Lakeshore Fitness Center is on prime property on Muskegon Lake next to the Heritage Landing park and outdoor concert venue near downtown Muskegon.

Many residents have told trustees they’d like the building to be maintained as a fitness center – more than 100 community members attended the board’s May 1 meeting to voice their frustration and anger over the facility’s closure.

Some residents have also urged the board to consider other uses for the site of the facility, such as building a mixed-use facility on the fitness center’s property which could house offices, retail or housing.

The board on June 17 agreed that it will receive and consider results of a third-party survey to gauge community interest in the facility’s development. Results of the survey must be submitted to the board by October for the college to weigh its options.

Two Muskegon residents are leading the charge to figure out what the community wants to see in the Lakeshore Fitness Center.

Both longtime members of the fitness centers, Gary Neal and Roger Rapoport addressed trustees June 17 during public comment to pitch other potential options for the facility. Their goal is to see the building remain a community center serving Muskegon residents.

Rapoport said the two residents will conduct a planning study to gauge community interest, which he said would be funded by community members.

“When the fitness center reopens, what I’m hoping is that it will be a community partnership,” Rapoport told MLive. “The fitness center kind of is the only healthcare related facility in the central city left, so that’s part of the idea of reopening the center.”