- Alexandra Clough Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Ultima Downtown Gym, a West Palm Beach fixture, is leaving Clematis Street to take space in a Flagler Drive office building. The move is a major change by a key downtown retailer seeking to provide its customers with an environment more urbane than urban.
Ultima will move to the fourth floor of the Jupiter Medical Center Mount Sinai New York Sinai Plaza at 625 N. Flagler Drive. Ultima, which is leasing 9,500 square feet, will offer free parking in the garage on the same level, as well as Intracoastal Waterway views as they work out on cardio equipment. A wrap-around balcony also is a feature of the space, expected to open in mid-to-late April.
While Ultima is moving out of the downtown, another user already has claimed interest in its 400 Clematis St. space. CVS pharmacy reportedly has a deal to take the site, but the city must OK the sale of liquor, such as beer and wine, before the deal can happen, a city official said.
Ultima’s move from ground-level street space to an office building might seem like an unconventional switch, but Michael McCloskey, an owner of 625 N. Flagler, said Ultima compliments the health and wellness focus of the building. The gym also provides an amenity for office tenants, he said.
For Ultima, the move solves a number of problems, including a lack of cheap, available parking.
It also resolves what owner Michael Platt characterized as a decline in the business environment of Clematis Street since he bought the gym nearly five years ago.
“The downtown area was much nicer than it is now,” Platt said. “We didn’t have vagrants harrasing members, asking for money or screaming at them, and the parking lot didn’t smell like urine. People feel unsafe here…I paid a premium to live in a really beautiful area, and it’s turned into a commercial hell hole.”
Raphael Clemente, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, took issue with Platt’s critical assessment of the downtown. “I don’t share that observation,” Clemente said. “Every city that has an urban district is facing this right now. The homeless issue is not unique to West Palm Beach.”
Clemente added that he sees plenty of businesses thriving downtown, such as those in the 500 block of Clematis Street. He also thinks the new apartments opening and the soon-to-open Brightline train station, will boost business for everyone downtown.
In any event, Platt said he’s looking forward to being able to offer his clients free parking in freshly built-out space as he seeks to reshape Ultima into a more upscale, specialty gym focused on health and wellness.
“We’re not a big box gym that’s a little of everything to everybody,” Platt said. “We do best with people who are really commited to making themselves healthier and fitter…..This is our ministry.”
Creating his vision for the gym is “the most exciting thing to happen to me,” Platt added.
His Palm Beach clients are happy, too, Platt said.”They say, ‘We hate to drive through downtown.’ Soon they’ll just cross the bridge, turn right and go into the parking lot.”
Platt said he has about 1,500 members, of which 40 percent live on Palm Beach. At the new space, Platt said he plans to offer more personal training as well as bootcamp and Boxfit, an exercise routine that incorporates boxing. Plans are to possibly build a boxing ring in the new space, too.
Boxfit’s existing 208 Olive Ave. space, meanwhile, will be converted into a space devoted to Ultima spin classes, Platt said.
Monthly gym fees, now at $79 a month for regular memberships and $129 for premium members, will creep up between $20-$30 a month, Platt said.
Since McCloskey and partners Leslie and Tom Quick purchased the former Bank of America office building in October 2016, they have sought to transform the property into a health and wellness center. They lured Jupiter Medical Center and its expanding alliance with Mount Sinai Hospital of New York. Jupiter Medical recently opened a ground floor urgent care center in the building, too.
McCloskey said having Ultima is a perfect compliment to the building’s new focus.
“If you look at the global commercial office market, you’re seeing more buildings readopted for health and wellness uses. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent medical, but it is a natural evolution of commercial real estate,” McCloskey said.
Typically, office buildings have not been hospitable to gyms, which require a lot of parking and can be noisy. Also, the sight of sweaty people in workout clothes usually doesn’t fit the business attire of an office setting.
But McCloskey said the office building’s configuration allows Ultima customers to park and walk directly to the 4th floor gym on the same level, thereby bypassing the lobby. The gym space also will be soundproofed.
Having a gym in an office building also makes sense because gyms are mostly busy during off-peak business hours, when office buildings are empty, McCloskey said. Gyms’ prime times are early in the morning and after work, while office and medical tenants tend to see clients and patients during the business day.
As Ultima prepares its exit from Clematis Street, other tenants are eying vacant spaces and considering a move to the street.
Among them not only are CVS but also 7-11, which seeks to lease the former Don Ramon restsaurant space at 300 Clematis St., Clemente said.
Investors, property owners and real estate brokers also have new ideas for Clematis Street, including allowing lawyers, real estate brokers and other professional service firms to lease space on a street that now is 80 percent restricted to retail use on the ground floor.
Although the city long has tried to make Clematis an entertainment district featuring mostly stores and restaurants, the fact is that the retail industry has suffered from competition from online retailers, brokers say.
“The vision of 1997 doesn’t work now,” said Rebel Cook, a broker who attended a recent meeting with city staffers. “People want to walk to their lawyer’s office or a doctor’s office. You have to go with what’s happening in the world today.”
Buildings that changed hands in recent years now command high rents, which often are out of reach for retailers, including restaurants. Thus a number of Clematis Street spaces are empty, while others turn over with some frequency.
Rick Greene, the city of West Palm Beach’s development services director, said city staffers are working to loosen the rules regarding non-retail uses for Clematis Street, such as allowing real estate, law or medical offices there.
The staff also is working to come up with a plan to allow both 7-11 and CVS on the street, but with restrictions on liquor sales, Greene said. An example might be barring the sale of individual beers.
The DDA’s Clemente said he’s aware some people oppose chain retailers or don’t like the idea of a convenience store downtown, hoping to preserve the street as a destination for entertainment.
At the same time, downtown West Palm Beach has become much more residential with the opening of new apartment buildings. Residents are looking for “town serving” retailers who can meet their basic needs.
“There’s a tension between us being the destination street and the neighborhood main street,” Clemente said. “I think there can be both.”
The DDA will be having meetings this month to discuss the topic. Meanwhile, city committees are expected to take up the matter in January, with the city commission possibly considering proposals by March, Greene said.