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Recently, Merritt Clubs opened its rooftop pool at Merritt Clubs Canton in Baltimore, Maryland — the result of a $20 million, 8-story expansion project.
Amenities include an adults-only pool, hot tub and kids pool, six cabanas, entertainment space and a bar and restaurant named after the late Leroy Merritt, founder of Merritt Clubs. Currently, the club has 7,000 members.
Here, Mark Miller, the COO of Merritt Clubs, weighs in on the inspiration for the project and learning lessons.
CS: What sparked the need to expand the Canton location and embark on the $20 million project?
MM: Well this was sparked from a few perspectives. One critical one is that in the city, parking is always at a premium and we needed to ensure we had long-term parking solutions for our members. So in analyzing that we decided this presented an opportunity to add additional space and create some new member-oriented pieces that would enhance the member experience and value and help link long-term retention and alignment with our new branding [from Merritt Athletic Clubs to Merritt Clubs].
CS: What are you most excited about with this project?
MM: This project has been exciting from its initial conception. We really thought we had the opportunity to enhance our services and offerings and build something that would stand out. Our rooftop pool is no doubt one of the most impressive and exciting aspects as it provides something others do not have, and the 360-degree views are just breathtaking. We feel this provides our members an aspect of socialization that can enhance and impact their results.
Also our new turf training area and monkey bar provides members with a challenging and engaging program that can be used for fun events, challenges or just simply as a way to measure progress.
CS: What were the biggest challenges with this project and how did you overcome them?
MM: Well with any construction there are challenges. One of the most difficult was closing our existing pool for over a year and not losing members, as that was one of the most popular parts of our clubs and a major summer draw. In addition we had to lose parking spaces in order to gain more. So partnering with local businesses and buying spaces helped as the community came together to assist. Our staff did an unbelievable job driving services and communicating to members so that the club ran smoothly while under construction and we avoided many of those headaches.
CS: What do members think about the expansion?
MM: So far the feedback has been more than we expected. The support and gratitude they have shared has been mind blowing.
CS: Any learning lessons you can share with other operators?
MM: Everything begins with a team and a team dedicated to the vision. You have to be willing to be flexible and evolve along the way and not stay rigid to the initial design or layout. We probably had 27 different revisions. It’s like a great work of art. You have to be willing to drop the ego and focus on what the members would need and want and how you can get better each week. We had weekly meetings for 2 years as we built it and zig and zagged often. So the biggest one is communicating to staff and members without over promising as your program evolves.