U Club: More Than Meets Eye

September 12, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The University Club is basically a country club in the heart of the city, so it’s not surprising the bulk of its bookings are for business meetings, professional conferences and training seminars. But the club hosts a lot of wedding receptions for members, as well — at least 30 to 40 a year.

The club occupies more than 9,000 square feet on the 10th floor of the Fifth Third building on Lyon Street. It can accommodate 250 for a sit-down dinner and about 450 for a cocktail reception, according to General Manager Cindi Poll. The space includes a main dining room, a dance area, an adjacent fireside room and four adjoining rooms that can be used for smaller events.

The club offers seven meeting and banquet rooms and is open for lunch and dinner. It also will serve breakfast for prearranged breakfast meetings of 10 to 200 people, Poll said.

For evening and weekend events, the club picks up the tab for parking in the Fifth Third Bank parking lot adjacent to the building. For events scheduled during the day, the club provides a discounted parking rate, Poll said.

The University Club boasts a dramatic view of downtown Grand Rapids from every room, and from 10 stories up offers a new perspective on Alexander Calder’s “La Grande Vitesse” sculpture on Calder Plaza.

There’s no initiation fee or rental fee for facility use. Instead, the University Club offers a dining membership rate with a $20-a-month food and beverage minimum plus $20-a-month dues. Poll said for meetings and other uses, there are minimum food and beverage rates for the various rooms. The main dining room, for instance, has a minimum food and beverage rate of $500. The rooms have different minimums, depending on whether breakfast, lunch or dinner will be served.

“There are no room charges whatsoever,” Poll explained. “The charges are just in your food and beverage tax and service, but you have to have your food and bar catered through us, of course.

“We’re a private club, and we don’t advertise, so a lot of people don’t even know we’re here.”

In the basement level of the building, the club has an informal dining room that’s only open for lunch and for private parties in the evening, Poll said. That space can accommodate 40 people for a sit-down function and 80 for a stand-up reception. The club’s dining staff prepares all meals on the premises, with a kitchen on the 10th floor, as well as one in the basement to serve the downstairs facility. The club has a waitstaff of about 35, some of whom are employed full time and some part time, or as needed. The club also will cater to member functions off site.

“It’s very, very reasonable. You don’t have room charges, and our pricing is wonderful compared to many downtown venues; many things are included that other places do not include,” Poll said. “When you factor everything in, it’s very reasonable to have a membership here.”

Perhaps one of the better kept secrets downtown is the club’s 10,000-square-foot athletic facility in the basement level of the building. The newly remodeled and expanded facility is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It offers a full-size swimming pool, basketball courts, hot tub, sauna and steam rooms, and equipment such as Precor treadmills, steppers and ellipticals, Schwinn Airdyne bikes, and free weights.

“It’s not a small club,” Poll remarked. “People are shocked that that’s all there. Unless a member brings you in, you wouldn’t know it’s there.”

It has all the related workout amenities, as well, and spin, step, yoga and strength-training classes offered through the facility are included in the athletic/dining membership fee that ranges from $80 to $135 a month, depending on the category of membership, Poll noted. The athletic/dining membership is a family membership, which is another thing that’s “huge,” Poll said. She said the club has tentative plans to install windows between the pool and cardio room to give the workout areas a more open feel.

Use of the club’s dining and workout facilities are restricted to members, their guests and individuals sponsored by members. Members of the Press Club, which joined the University Club in January 2004, have the same privileges as the club’s dining members.

University Club members have reciprocal privileges at more than 100 private clubs both regionally and across the nation, many of which offer overnight accommodations, dining, athletic facilities and golf courses. The reciprocal benefit is “huge, huge, huge” to University Club members, according to Poll. For its part, the University Club offers guests from other clubs accommodations at the Amway Grand Hotel at a discounted rate.

“We’re considered preferred customers over there,” Poll remarked. “They realize that we are not in direct competition with them, so they help us whenever.”

The University Club is a very inclusive club, she said. About 35 percent of its 460 members are women, which is high for a private club, she pointed out.

“Women are certainly our fastest-growing segment. We want different minorities, and we go out of our way to do that, actually.”     

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