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Steel Gym Closes Local Branch In Sneaky Retreat

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Written by Richard Hack


FORT LAUDERDALE–Steel Gym, the fitness club that labeled itself the “Only Real Gym in Fort Lauderdale,” is no more. Under a full moon last Monday evening, owner Ken Hunt closed up the local branch of his three-outlet gym in Searstown on Federal Highway, as equipment was moved into a waiting moving truck and departed quietly into night.

It was not Hunt’s only experience with a clandestine gym closure. Last May, he exited his previous location in the Shoppes of Wilton Manors, leaving members to read about the move via a notice posted on the door. At the time, Hunt suggested that a landlord dispute was to blame.

“I had an opportunity to move the club and I jumped at the chance to upgrade the business, both for us and the members,” he said at the time. “I did this because we needed better parking, and a better building that wasn’t falling apart. I have waited years for the simplest things to get done. Now we’re now going to have better parking, a building in perfect condition, and it’s a win-win for the members. For the inconvenience, I am giving away a free month of membership to everyone who is currently a member. It’s only fair.”

This time, gym members were not so fortunate. Notes taped to the empty store front that previously held a PetSupermarket read:

“Steel Gym Closed, Effective Immediately. Dear Members, We have reached the difficult decision to close our Fort Lauderdale location. After several months, it became clear to us that the market could not sustain an independent gym vs. the other larger chains in the general area. We thank you for your patronage and look forward to seeing you at our other locations. Sincerely, Steel Gym.”

It was not what members wanted to hear. “This is the third time I’ve been ripped off by this club,” Gym Rat vented on social media. “Karma has a way of catching up.”

“I guess old dogs don’t learn new tricks,” Skip VandeLinde wrote of Facebook. “They did it to everyone before, and they are doing it again. SO MUCH FOR GIVING MEMBERS NOTICE.”

It wasn’t always this way, of course. In Steel Gym’s original Wilton Manors location, which they took over from Island City Fitness, Ken Hunt made every effort to include his members as decisions were made about the remodeling of the gym and its locker rooms and aerobics floor.

As a local provider for Silver Sneakers members, Steel also provided a home base for the Brian Neal Fitness & Health Foundation, donating free memberships for HIV patients, and providing space for the Foundation’s free exercise classes.

Prior to Island City occupying the corner spot behind Georgie’s Alibi in the Shoppes of Wilton Manors, Better Bodies gym owned by Florida investor Bob DeBenedictis tried to make the space work.

The difficulty in the facility was the lack of active participation on the part of absentee landlord Rivercrest Realty Investors, headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina. Inoperative air conditioning units as well as leaking roofs and lack of customer parking were common complaints following Rivercrest’s purchase of the shopping plaza in 2007 from builder Terry Stiles.

By the time Steel Gym leased the property in 2013, the maintainance of the shopping center was already deteriorating.

“I didn’t realize the magnitude of the issues with the physical structure of the building. We’ve had a leaking roof that has caused damage within the gym, including warping the hardwood workout floor in the aerobics room. There are ceiling tiles that are in the men’s locker room that need to be replaced but we cannot touch them,” Hunt said, saying that his hands are tied given the unresponsiveness of the landlord. Ditto the bike rack in front of the gym that is neither owned nor maintained by Steel Gym, but utilized by its membership.

Steel left the space in Wilton Manors in an overnight exodus, not unlike its current clandestine move from its final incarnation within Searstown. Unfortunately, few previous members of the club made the transition to the new location which lacked shower facilities and locker rooms. On a recent visit to the gym, it was evident that Hunt had spent considerable money updating the space, including adding a new aerobic space and offices. It was just as evident that the gym was empty—with only two other members using the facility.

Attempts to contact Ken Hunt were not successful at press time.