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Fitness chain to open in CT with pickleball, racquetball courts, saltwater lap pool, day care

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A chain of fitness centers in Georgia is making its debut in Connecticut this spring by taking over the recently closed Esporta gym in Bristol, which will reopen as GF Fitness next month.

The roughly 45,000-square-foot gym will feature pickleball courts, a saltwater lap pool, a small day care operation and more, the operators said Tuesday in announcing the plan.

GF Fitness said its Bristol location will employ about 40 people when it’s fully staffed, and will be open daily from 4 a.m. to midnight at least — and possibly 24/7 if demand is strong enough.

Owner Mark Montgomery said he’s confident the GF Fitness concept will be a hit in the Greater Bristol market, despite all of the competition.

The empty pool at the former L A Fitness in Bristol is undergoing maintenance and will reopen as a saltwater pool when GA Fitness takes over the building. (Don Stacom/The Hartford Courant)

More than a half dozen other gyms operate in the city ranging from Healthtrax and Bell City CrossFit to outlets of the national Powerhouse Gym and Planet Fitness chains. Just a few doors from the GA Fitness building is Edge Fitness’s Bristol location.

“I joined Edge my first day here, and I’ve been training over there for about four weeks, doing reconnaissance,” Montgomery said after a brief ceremony Tuesday morning to meet community leaders. “I know that what we can bring to the table here is going to compete against that.”

GF Fitness will offer corrective stretching, stability training, personal training and up to 40 weekly classes.

Equipment at the GA Fitness center in Bristol, which is expected to open in June. (Don Stacom/The Hartford Courant)
Equipment at the GA Fitness center in Bristol, which is expected to open in June. (Don Stacom/The Hartford Courant)

“We’ll bring in specialty equipment that nobody else has. We’ll have about nine pieces of equipment that none of our competitors have,” including a belt squat machine and a standing bench press, Montgomery said.

L A Fitness was a pioneer in the Bristol market when it launched its sprawling, upscale fitness center in 2008 in the newly constructed building at 1379 Farmington Ave. L A Fitness set itself apart from smaller, more traditional gyms with bright colors, super-high ceilings, lots of cardio equipment, a whirlpool, a sweeping curved mezzanine and plenty of windows showcasing the pool.

Not long ago, the company shifted the Bristol gym to its Esporta Fitness brand, and then last fall indicated that it wouldn’t be renewing the lease. The gym shut down altogether in March, leaving city officials concerned about the prospect of an empty big box building that was designed to be a gym — and expensive to remodel into something else.

Dan Bingaman, manager of the GA Fitness center opening next month in Bristol. (Don Stacom/The Hartford Courant)
Dan Bingaman, manager of the GA Fitness center opening next month in Bristol. (Don Stacom/The Hartford Courant)

The city’s economic development team worked with Vance Taylor of the Torrington-based Commercial Real Estate Group, and attracted the attention of Montgomery. His GF Fitness chain owns and operates gyms in Georgia, and was looking to expand to a new market and begin franchising.

Montgomery has brought Dan Bingaman, a veteran fitness center manager from the South, to Bristol to establish the GF Fitness operation and build a local team of managers and staff over the next year. The plan is to transfer the business to a franchisee when it’s fully established.

Montgomery started as a sales agent with the former Bally Fitness in the mid-’80s, and went on to be a senior regional supervisor.

“We’ve been doing this about 36, 37 years. We’ve had multiple clubs but this is one of the bigger ones we’ve ever taken over,” he said. “All I knew about Bristol, Connecticut was ESPN.”

Caggiano said a highlight of the renovated fitness center will be the new indoor pickleball courts, which are being put in the space where L A Fitness had a basketball court.

“We built outdoor pickleball courts through Parks and Recreation, but the biggest need in our town right now is indoor pickleball courts,” Caggiano told Montgomery. “And you’re going to draw so many people to the saltwater pool.”

Treadmills at the GA Fitness Center in Bristol. (Don Stacom/The Hartford Courant)
Treadmills at the GA Fitness Center in Bristol. (Don Stacom/The Hartford Courant)

Jim Sokaitis, a racquetball enthusiast, predicted that GA Fitness’s racquetball courts will be busy with dozens of players from the region as well as state and regional tournaments along with local youth clinics. LA Fitness had five racquetball courts in the center, and Montgomery has decided to retain them all. That gives the GA Fitness operation the biggest and best facility in central Connecticut for tournaments, Sokaitis said.

“These racquetball folks want to stay here. We want racquetball to succeed here and we think it will,” Sokaitis said.

While construction continues, GA Fitness is offering a $29 per month rate and is guaranteeing new members that they can lock it in for the duration of their membership. The regular rate will be around $40 or a bit more, Montgomery said.

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