Private health club to open in JCC of S.F. by winter

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The action marks the first time a nonprofit JCC has turned to a for-profit health club to run its facilities, said center executive director Zev Hymowitz. And other JCCs across the country are watching.

"They're waiting for us to be the guinea pigs," Hymowitz said last week.

The reopening is part of the recovery for the JCC, which had accumulated a deficit of $1.6 million last year. The crisis forced scores of layoffs, reduced activities and hours of operation, and shut down the health club.

But since Hymowitz took over last August, he has slowly been nursing the San Francisco institution back to financial health. Due in part to the $1.8 million sale of San Francisco property to the Brandeis Hillel Day School and $200,000 in staff reductions this spring, the deficit is now estimated at about $300,000.

"If you talk to me, it's a minor miracle," Hymowitz said.

Though the JCC had always run its own health club, Hymowitz said a subcommittee determined that it was "impossible" for the nonprofit to reopen the facilities that closed in May 1995.

"The amount of money that needed to be put in was exorbitant," Hymowitz said.

A renegotiated contract with Pinnacle Fitness was signed at the end of May. The company applied this week for a city building permit and should begin renovations within a few weeks, Pinnacle general partner Gene Campbell said.

The club's official name will be Pinnacle Fitness at the JCC. Campbell's company also owns or partly owns clubs in downtown San Francisco, Oakland, Pleasant Hill and Danville.

The Laurel Heights club's facilities will include the fitness rooms, swimming pool and gymnasium. The JCC will be able to use the gym for its own programs in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

"It will be a fantastic neighborhood club," Campbell said.

Between now and December, Pinnacle Fitness will spend $500,000 to $600,000 on renovations plus another $300,000 to $400,000 on new equipment.

Over the eight years of the contract, the JCC will reimburse the fitness company for the renovation costs. The center will receive a minimal monthly rent, which neither party would disclose, and a percentage of sales above that figure.

Before the club opens, Pinnacle plans to offer several special offers to attract members.

Until Labor Day, for example, former JCC members will be offered reduced rates. The usual $299 start-up fees will be waived and the regular monthly rate will be offered at $49 instead of $59. Anyone who joins now can use other Pinnacle clubs in San Francisco until the JCC site opens.

Campbell hopes to attract 3,000 members within a year.

"We feel pretty comfortable we can hit that number," he said.

Fitness club membership will automatically include a JCC membership. For those who want to join only the JCC to take advantage of discounts for classes and activities excluding the fitness areas, the center is offering a separate annual membership that ranges from $50 for an adult to $100 for a family.

The recovering JCC's next step will be a six-month planning process that will map out the next five to eight years for the center.

"Should we be knocking it down, fixing it up or moving elsewhere? Who knows?" Hymowitz said.

For several years, JCC and community leaders have talked about tearing down the 1930s structure and rebuilding.

That scenario is still a possibility, Hymowitz said. The JCC retained the right to demolish the building anytime during the next eight years.

Meanwhile, center programming will slowly be rebuilt.

Though the center's nursery school, after-school activities, sports leagues, emigre assistance and kosher meals for seniors never stopped over the past 1-1/2 years, adult programs and night activities were cut to a minimum.

That will slowly change over the next year. The center, for instance, won a two-year grant for $50,000 from the Jewish Community Federation's endowment fund to start a Hebrew University-affiliated Melton Adult Mini-School in January 1997.

The studies, which include basic Jewish history, law and culture, will lead to a two-year certificate of completion.

Katherine Feinstein, the new assistant executive director for marketing and programs, also will relaunch and restructure the center's classes and activities.

Feinstein, who began work at the JCC in May, rounds out a new three-person management team. Hymowitz began last August. Sandee Blechman, the assistant executive director for finance, operations and administration, began a month later.

In addition to the land sale and the staff reductions, fund-raising efforts have begun to replenish the JCC's coffer. A springtime fund-raising event featuring Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel brought in $90,000. Another $110,000 has been raised among board and community members over the past year.

Blechman, who said she arrived to "chaos," has spent the past year trying to reduce spending and restructure the finances for the 1996-97 budget of $5.5 million.

"That's been a major focus of this year," Blechman said. "We're sort of there now."