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In July 2017, Midtown Athletic Clubs will launch its first sports resort that includes a 55-room boutique hotel. The $75 million project is part of an expansion happening at the Midtown Athletic Club Chicago, and the massive transformation will see the facility grow from 150,000 square feet to 575,000 square feet.
Unique amenities include an outdoor pool that transitions into an ice-skating rink in the winter, a 40-yard turf field, four pools, a 122-seat restaurant and bar and much more. Here, Jon Brady, the COO of Midtown Athletic Clubs, discusses highlights of the project and what it means for the company.
CS: How did the idea for a boutique hotel and sports resort combo come about?
JB: I was involved with similar projects in Europe where we added hotel rooms to clubs, and it was hugely successful. And Steven Schwartz (the CEO of Midtown Athletic Clubs) has a hotel background as well, so it just made sense to us to try and combine the expanded club with a boutique hotel.
We are really targeting the active traveler. We know when we travel and people in our industry travel, staying healthy on the road is pretty tough. We figure this is a real niche in the market for active travelers or anyone that has an active lifestyle — this should really appeal to them coming into Chicago.
CS: What are some highlights of the project?
JB: The hotel will have 55 rooms, four of which will be suites. One of the suites is being designed by Venus Williams’ design firm, V Starr Interiors. Venus has a long history with Midtown Athletic Clubs. She and Serena played tennis at Midtown Athletic Clubs when they were young, and so they have been friends of Allen Schwartz (Midtown Athletic Clubs’ founder) and Steven Schwartz for a long time.
Venus flew directly to Chicago from Wimbledon to see how the project was progressing. Originally we were talking to her about her clothing line, EleVen by Venus Williams — she was interested in putting it in the boutique and retailing it with us. Once she saw the plan, the building and we talked about the hotel, she really wanted to get involved from an interior design perspective with her interior design business as well.
It’s very exciting. The rooms are beautiful. There is a great view of the city and there is a gorgeous skyline, so we are pretty excited.
CS: When you consider the total size of the sports resort, the hotel makes up just 6 percent of the grounds, correct?
JB: Yes. It’s a big project and we think it’s going to be one of the biggest clubs in the world. The majority of it is the health club, all of the fitness amenities and social/community spaces.
We’ve traveled the world looking at all of the best boutique studios over the last two years, experienced them and tried to understand from members and users of those boutiques what really makes them special. And we’ve tried to create experiences within the club that we feel are on a par with those boutique or even taking them to another level. What we’re doing is really curating the boutiques and building out the experiences from the ground up.
The yoga studio for example and the meditation space — I think you will find it is one of the best yoga studios being designed, because it is based on all the feedback we got from yogis, which included focusing on the floor and the lighting. We have diffused lights and a solid, grounding, earth-like floor that really pulls you into it. We’ve found that using sort of a mesquite, which is a hardwood and has kind of a leathery texture, finish and touch — it’s gorgeous.
We’ve really tried to take the group experience and turn that into a theater-like, total experience where you feel like you are coming into a space that is being designed just for that experience, rather than you’re just taking a class.
CS: What do you think this project means for Midtown Athletic Clubs?
JB: I think it elevates the brand. Adding the hotel differentiates us as well. Our clubs are generally at the high-end of the market and this is really going to elevate it — we’ll take what we learn back to some of our other clubs. There is growth opportunity.
CS: With the facility not completed yet, how are you marketing the new project?
JB: We developed a virtual reality walk-through tour of the club. So you can put the virtual reality headset on, and we can tour you through the interior of the club as it will be when it is finished.
It is stunning. You can feel like you are in the swimming pool or standing on the side of the swimming pool. If you go to the yoga studio, you can see the grain and the texture of the floor and the lights and features. It really is a phenomenal experience.
We launched the virtual reality tour three weeks ago with our sales team in Chicago, and the feedback from prospects, people coming in to look around and see what is going on, has been unbelievable. It has been viral. We’ve had people bring friends and family in to do the tour and they’ve posted it on Facebook just for fun.
I think it really has been a game changer for us. Not only in terms of developing the building — because we can look at it and think, oh, that doesn’t look right, or we need to change the color of that wall, or we didn’t think that would look that way. So it’s been good for the architect. But also from a sales perspective, [virtual reality] has really blown people away. It’s really not that expensive, so it is a really interesting opportunity for us.
Renderings courtesy of Midtown Athletic Clubs: