When the bottom falls out of the economy and spending money starts becoming scarce in people’s pocketbooks, extravagances are the first to go. So, after acquiring Western Athletic Club in 2008, Denver-based luxury-focused private-equity firm KSL Capital Partners, LLC knew it would need to rethink the upscale fitness chain’s allure to retain its member base. Luckily, the firm found Edgar Elliot, a man with a background in high-end hotel work, who joined Western Athletic in 2010 as its new vice president of construction. His task was to help change the chain’s gyms and sports resorts into destinations for not only health-conscious individuals but their entire families.
“We’re a resort without rooms,” Elliot says. This mantra is repeated by many of Western Athletic’s employees, often when they’re assisting confused website visitors who think they’ve reached the Internet address of a posh hotel. With finely finished social rooms and spaces where patrons can hang out, connect to the Internet, and eat, the chain’s 11 Northern California locations have netted 26,000 members and counting, proving Elliot’s strategy successful. The newly branded Bay Club Cupertino location was his introductory project, the first club added to Western Athletic’s holdings in 10 years, and the 70,000-square-foot space has served as the template for the company’s renewed vision overall.
Western Athletic holds two types of properties: resort clubs, focused on outdoor activities such as swimming and golf, and urban clubs, focused on indoor activities and strategically located in city centers. Bay Club Cupertino is an urban club, an adaptive-reuse project built into an old Sears building, which proved challenging because it required a complete gutting of the three-floor structure.
Elliot took cues from the club’s location and its proximity to Apple’s headquarters. (The building is off of Stevens Creek Boulevard, which runs through the iPad maker’s campus.) The exterior was made to look like a giant white box to highlight its ultra-modern interior, and because the building had no windows on its façade, the construction team ran glass from the front doors all the way up to the roofline to allow light to flood in. Western Athletic also chopped out a large section of the second floor in the entrance lobby so that guests are greeted by a two-story ceiling with a 24-by-24-foot skylight.
In addition to being open and extravagant, the lobby now promotes Western Athletic’s new focus on turning neglected space into active space, with high-top community tables and communal iPads reflecting the area’s function: socialization. Deeper in the club, there’s a 4,000-square-foot Starbucks coffee shop and a 1,200-square-foot lounge room with an 80-inch HDTV, and the building also holds banquet facilities, cafés, and retail shops with equipment and clothes.
Understanding its surrounding market, Bay Club Cupertino features numerous tech flourishes such as facility-wide Wi-Fi, lockers with USB charging stations, and a state-of-the-art business center. The center has a free public area and six private suites members can rent. And, each suite comes equipped with high-speed Internet, copy and fax machines, a marble table holding a large monitor, and access to a 60-inch HDTV for video conferencing. “It’s a lot more than just a place to work out,” Elliot says. “It’s a place to hang out and spend time with your family and friends.”
Because its core customers are baby boomers, the company now touts child-care services and fitness programs, and there are numerous activity areas for adults and children as well as classes and programming that they can take separately or together. The facility also includes homework rooms, video rooms, and playrooms, and children even have their own restrooms with appropriately sized vanities and toilets.
Bay Club Cupertino may have been designed to reach beyond fitness, but it’s still a full-service health facility with features such as a state-of-the-art spa; a 10,000-square-foot fitness center; glass-backed tennis, squash, and basketball courts; extensive movement and dancing programs; group exercise and cycling studios; and even an 8,000-square-foot mind and body center offering yoga and Pilates classes.
With Bay Club Cupertino as a blueprint, Western Athletic has been able to move forward in making its other locations places where clients not only get fit physically but socially, as well. “We’re trying to build a community within a community,” Elliot says. “The whole point of the business is not just getting people to join and use the facilities but for people to stay and stick around.”
Just don’t ask for a hotel room.