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Monday
Aug292011

When Time Stood Still

Search lights positioned at Ground Zero point toward the sky in remembrance of the Twin Towers. (Photo: laverrue)

Industry perspectives on the shared experience of 9/11

September 11, 2001:

It is a date, a day in history, that will never be forgotten, but, now, on the 10th anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C., it’s particularly appropriate to reflect on that cataclysmic, world-altering event.

In 2001 and 2002, CBI published a number of articles about the aftermath of 9/11. One of those (see “Defining Moment,” September 2002 CBI, pg. 42) chronicled the experiences and emotions of individuals who operated health and fitness facilities in New York City at the time of the attacks.

Now, 10 years after the terrorists left Manhattan with a scarred Ground Zero landscape, and the country with a lingering anxiety and state of chronic hyper-alertness, we’re beginning to see the emergence of the World Trade Center towers and the rebirth of a city’s spirit.

Recently, CBI went back to the operators who’d shared their painful experiences in ’02 to gain perspective on how their clubs and views of New York City had changed. Not surprisingly, a great deal is much different today—some people have moved on to new companies and/or careers, and certain firms, such as The Wellbridge Company, no longer have a presence in the city.

Yet, the general sense conveyed was of strong resiliency, with respect to the city, their businesses, and lives. While a subliminal unease and heightened security remain part of the new environment, there’s also optimism, progress, and renewal, as the following operators relate in their shared, but singular, experiences. 

 

Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex
Greta Wagner, First Vice President, General Manager

  • September 11, 2001: At the time. Chelsea Piers was a 1.7-million-square-foot facility
  • September 2011: The complex now boasts a new daycare center and team-sports facilities

“I remember clearly how very involved we were with 9/11. We were an emergency staging area, and the FBI and Secret Service came in and, essentially, took over my office that day. In fact, to this day, whenever there’s a major emergency in the city, people tend to gravitate toward Chelsea Piers. When we had a massive blackout a few years later, thousands of people showed up on our doorstep.

“Of course, time stood still for a while after 9/11, as the city came to grips with, and adjusted to, what had happened. Those events taught all of us at the Piers that the residents of New York City view our facility as more than a gym, and more than a place to skate or play golf. Until 9/11, I don’t think we realized that, without even being told to do so, they come here in a time of crisis to find safety, meet other people, and look for help.”

“At the time, I lived two blocks from the World Trade Center, and we couldn't get back to our apartment until the end of the month, and that was only with the help of a National Guard escort. My 14-month-old son, Harry, was only blocks away from the towers when they came down; fortunately, some good Samaritans helped him and his caregiver outrun the dust cloud. And I’ll never forget the stress of watching the remains of the towers being hauled out onto a barge next to our building.

“9/11 will always play a role in the history of Chelsea Piers. On a History Wall that stands between Pier 60 and Pier 61, we’ve posted enlarged photos from that day showing lines of people waiting to board boats to New Jersey; the triage center we set up with St. Vincent’s Hospital in one of our sound stages; and the fleet of ambulances that were housed here before being dispatched to Ground Zero.

“I, personally, commemorate 9/11 every time I cross the West Side Highway on my way to work and glance south.” 

 

ClubCorp

Dave Woodyard, Executive Vice President, Business and Sports Club Division

  • September 11, 2001: 200 clubs; operated one facility in New York, The Athletic & Swim Club; privately held
  • September 2011: purchased by KSL Partners in 2006; still operates the same facility in New York, The Athletic & Swim Club

“After 9/11, ClubCorp suffered from the down economy, but eventually regained strength, and, in 2006, was purchased by KSL Capital Partners. Following the acquisition, the company continued to grow before again having to deal with what was the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008. Today, ClubCorp is recovering and growing once again.

“As far as our company is concerned, many of our employee partners had friends, family, and associates who were victims of the attack, and we continue to sympathize with their loss and miss those who were injured or lost. And, while we have clubs all over the world, 9/11 left us with us a new and enduring level of respect for New York City and New Yorkers.”

Note: ClubCorp had an affiliate club connected with the Windows on the World restaurant on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center that was destroyed in the attack, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives

 

Crunch Fitness

Keith Worts, President

  • September 11, 2001: 22 clubs, 10 in New York; owned by Bally Total Fitness
  • September 2011: purchased by New Evolution Ventures/Angelo Gordon in 2009; 31 clubs, 10 in New York; now offers franchises

“During 9/11, I was working as the northeast regional vice president for a chain that had three locations in the immediate vicinity of the terrorist attacks. I was on my way to the World Trade Center that morning, but, fortunately, made it only as far as the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. I learned that my coworker, Jimmy Delaunay, had been able to safely evacuate the gym, including everyone working out at the time, moments before the entire building was destroyed. We did, however, lose hundreds of members who were employed in the Trade Centers. I’ll never forget the events of that day and how they changed the city forever.

“One of the clearest memories I have is of the sense of camaraderie that emerged as an entire city reacted to an unimaginable event. It was never again so apparent until the day Osama Bin Laden was found and killed.

“Whether or not you lived in New York City on 9/11, those who got through it came together to pause, reflect, and remember. New York’s edginess, grittiness, and ability to persevere remain emblems of that day.”

 

Equinox Fitness Clubs

Carol B. Espel, Senior National Director, Group Fitness and Pilates

  • September 11, 2001: 13 clubs, 11 in New York
  • September 2011: 51 clubs, including recently introduced Pure Yoga brand; 18 in New York

“While we had what I might call an initial ‘tightening’ behind the scenes at our facilities, our members never felt it. We all worked hard to maintain ‘business as usual.’ I think, for myself, Equinox, and our members, there will always be a profound sense of sadness associated with that day, and that New York City—and the world—will never be the same.”

 

Health Fitness Corporation

Kim Diamond, Area Manager

  • September 11, 2001: managed 183 facilities, five in New York
  • September 2011: manages 300 facilities, four in New York

 “The impact that 9/11 has had on our operations and security serves as a constant reminder of how much things have changed. For example, employee IDs must be worn or carried at all times. Additional security measures have been implemented for visitors, who have to wear badges with photo identification while they’re in our buildings. We’ve instituted more comprehensive safety protocols that address fire, terrorist attacks, and evacuation drills. Depending on the alert code color in force in New York City, members of the National Guard may be present at some of our client companies’ sites.

“In general, we’ve come to accept the living and working conditions I’ve just described as constituting the ‘new norm.’ Major political events in the city, such as a Presidential visit or a United Nations gathering, and annual big events, such as New Year’s Eve in Times Square, always increase my awareness of the potential for a terrorist attack. One example that every New Yorker can relate to is the 2003 blackout; immediately, the thought was, ‘It’s another terrorist attack.’

“Once in a while, I look up at the skyline, and the missing Twin Towers remind me of 9/11 and the days that followed. Understanding that we can’t control everything, I continue to proudly live and work in New York City, striving to empower New Yorkers to take control of their health, educating them about choices that comprise a healthier lifestyle, and encouraging them to achieve and maintain optimal health.”

 

Plus One Health Management, Inc.

Mike Motta, Founder, Chairman

  • September 11, 2001: 24 facilities were under management, 20 in New York
  • September 2011: 164 facilities under management, 30 in New York

 “Working near Ground Zero gives you a different perspective on 9/11. When you walk by the site every day and dodge thousands of visitors circling a 16-acre mass of destruction that’s dotted with promising columns of new construction, it defies routine. Oddly, it’s created a comforting routine, as well…Each year, on 9/11, I speak with a club GM who was working across the street from One World Trade Center on the day it collapsed.”

 

Note: Plus One’s corporate offices, located close to the World Trade Center, were destroyed in the attack

 

The Sports Club Company

Nanette Pattee Francini, President and Cofounder 

  • September 11, 2001: eight clubs, three in New York
  • September 2011: two clubs in New York; six other clubs were sold to Millennium Partners Sports Club Management in 2006

 “Before 9/11 ever happened, I'd regarded New York City as pretty much the center of the universe, and I still do. New Yorkers are strong and resilient. They fought back by saying, ‘We’ll come back stronger, we’ll live well, and we’ll flourish.’ And they did.

“On 9/11, the Reebok Sports Club/NY was our one mature club, as our two others there had only opened recently. We felt the most impact at that facility, and, since 9/11, those members have remained steadfastly loyal to the club. For many, it’s a ‘community center’ and remains an oasis in the middle of the big city.”

 

Town Sports International Holdings, Inc. [NASDAQ: CLUB]

Bob Giardina, President, CEO

  • September 11, 2001: 126 clubs, 26 in Manhattan; privately held
  • September 2011: 159 clubs, 52 in New York City and the boroughs; public company

 “In general, 9/11 created a heightened awareness that something major could happen in this city. Following that, and such incidents as the Times Square Bomber and the killing of Bin Laden, increased security around New York City, overall, remains a constant reminder of that possibility…But we also learned from the event. We recognized, for example, that our safety and evacuation procedures had to change, and that our awareness of communication processes, by necessity, had to increase.”

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