Parkland Properties enters new territory

June 18, 2012
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Parkland Properties turned 24 this year. Founded by developer and entrepreneur Jon Rooks, the firm has created hundreds of residences and office spaces in Grand Rapids and eight other cities since its inception in 1988, and has gone from 50 to 200 employees in just the last three years.

But now Rooks is trying out a new venture.

Rooks is the owner and operator of the Monroe North Fitness Center in The Boardwalk, a condominium and office building his firm owns at 940 Monroe Ave. NW. He took over the Endurance Fitness Center, which was located in a lower level at The Boardwalk but wasn’t able to make a go of it.

Endurance was $160,000 behind in its rent and defaulted on its loan to Comerica Bank, so Rooks bought the assets and plans to operate it for at least a year, even if it doesn’t turn a profit.

“We’re keeping the doors open. We want to be good to the condo owners and the businesses in the neighborhood, so we’re keeping the doors open,” he said at a recent meeting of the Monroe North Business Association.

“If we quit, we will return any pre-paid money — that’s in the contract. We’ll try it for a year, but like any business start-up, we’re taking baby steps.”

Rooks hired Michael Byle and Julie Zucker as co-managers and Jolie Mosser as lead personal trainer. He also brightened up the rather dingy center.

“I worked out there for a few years and we called it ‘the dungeon.’ We don’t call it ‘the dungeon’ anymore,” said Byle. “We’re pretty proud of it.”

The fitness center is staffed from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10-2 on Saturdays, but also has 24-hour access seven days a week. A basic monthly membership that offers unlimited weights and cardio during staffed hours is $19.95. A premium membership, which offers 24-hour access, unlimited tanning and classes such as Zumba and Pilates, is $29.95 a month.

There also are special rates for seniors and students. Byle plans to meet with district business owners to encourage corporate memberships that offer special employee discounts.

Each new member will receive a free hour-long fitness orientation and personal training session. “It’s a wellness goal of ours. We want to get people in shape and keep them in shape,” said Byle.

Rooks said circumstances have caused him to stray from his core business strategy on occasion — like when he ended up with a hotel and a few other businesses years ago.

“We applied our customer service philosophy to those operations and have fortunately been successful in them, too. We hope we can do the same thing with the fitness center and make it profitable enough to be able to pay the rent and also retain good employees,” said Rooks, who was named by the U.S. Small Business Administration as its Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 1993.

“As the owner and operator, we are starting with a new strategy that is much different from the former owners. For instance, we don’t encourage advanced paid memberships,” he added. “The contracts are offered month-to-month and do not bind anyone on a long-term basis.”

As for The Boardwalk, Rooks said 16 more condo sales are in the works. The building contains 230. “We plan to be sold out this year for sure. We renewed over 90,000 square feet of office space in the last year-and-a-half,” he said. “And we think the fitness club really adds to the diversity, energy and heartbeat of this neighborhood and provides a much-needed service here.”

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