A host of legal battles likely will force Lawrence's Total Fitness Athletic Center to close in the near future, the club's owner said in a letter to members of the South Iowa Street health center.
Marty Tuley, owner/operator of the center at 2339 Iowa, said a legal battle with the center's former landlord and legal expenses related to a lawsuit filed by the Kansas attorney general on behalf of former members of the club had created financial difficulties for the business.
Tuley said in the March 21 letter that an exact closure date was unknown. Attempts to reach Tuley for comment were unsuccessful.
In the letter, Tuley also said that he had begun discussions with the owner of Lawrence Athletic Club about serving Total Fitness' members once the club closes.
Rick Sells, owner of Lawrence Athletic Club, said no deal had been reached and that negotiations were stalled. He said he hadn't been able to find out from Total Fitness' attorney how many members the club had or other basic details needed to strike a deal.
"When they sent out the letter mentioning Lawrence Athletic Club, I knew nothing about it," Sells said. "We do want to work on something to take care of their members, but my concern is that I don't want to shove 500 members, or how many ever he has, into my clubs and create problems for my loyal customers."
Sells said he had no interest in purchasing or leasing Total Fitness' building or equipment.
Members of Total Fitness said they were surprised and disappointed about the potential closing. Lawrence resident Michael Mahoney said he thought the closing could create a problem for customers who had pre-paid for their memberships, which cost $30 to $40 a month.
"I think they really try to get most people to pay for several months in advance," Mahoney said.
Tuley did not say in the letter whether the business would be offering refunds to members who had pre-paid for their memberships.
Bill Hoyt, a spokesman with the Kansas Attorney General's Office, said that members might have a right to a refund depending on how their contracts were written. If the club doesn't voluntarily give refunds, Hoyt said, it's unlikely the Attorney General's Office would become involved. Instead, he said, members likely would need to file a case in small claims court.
The shutdown would be the second closing of a large athletic club in Lawrence within the past year. Sixth Street Fitness closed its facility on West Sixth Street last April. The owner of that club reached a deal to "merge" the 600 members of his club into Total Fitness.
That merger is at the center of a lawsuit filed by the attorney general in October against Total Fitness and Sixth Street Fitness. Hoyt said the state believed the two clubs' owners improperly told Sixth Street members that they had to transfer their memberships to Total Fitness. The state believes Sixth Street members should have been offered a refund for the membership fees they had pre-paid but not yet used.
The lawsuit is seeking a refund for 22 former members of the club. Hoyt said out-of-court discussions were taking place with the two owners and no court date had been set.
According to the letter, Total Fitness also is involved in a legal battle with Raney Enterprises, which owned the building where Total Fitness previously was located. That building, at 925 Iowa, burned down in a March 2001 fire. Total Fitness never reopened at the site, but rather moved to its current location.
Attempts to reach a representative with Raney Enterprises were unsuccessful. Attempts to reach the attorney for Total Fitness also were unsuccessful.