Rumor mill running wild about possible changes at Lawrence Athletic Club

This one is a lot like me staring at a weight bar with about 200 pounds on it: There are more questions than answers.

But I’ve been getting several calls from members of the Lawrence Athletic Club about what the future holds at that facility.

As we reported in March, Wichita-based Meritrust Credit Union filed a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court seeking ownership of the Lawrence Athletic Club, 3201 Mesa Way, after it alleged LAC owner Rick Sells and his corporation Junkyard’s Jym defaulted on a $2.4 million note.

According to Douglas County property records, Meritrust indeed owns the real estate of the athletic club. That is as expected. The court records indicated Sells did not contest the credit union taking over ownership of the facility. The ownership issue, though, was clouded because another group — The Caspian Group, which is led by longtime Lawrence landlord George Paley — won a nearly $400,000 judgment against Junkyard’s Jym in Douglas County District Court last year, which stemmed from a lease dispute at another location. Sources tell me, though, that a settlement was reached that resolved any claim The Caspian Group may have had against the LAC property.

Even though Meritrust took over ownership of the facility, it never had an intention of running it. What several sources said happened is that Meritrust worked out an agreement with Sells to continue operating the club that he founded nearly 30 years ago.

But now there are questions about whether that relationship will continue. I’ve heard from upwards of a dozen folks now that talk around the club is that either an ownership change or at least a change in the operations of the club is imminent.

Then, there is one other sign that is a bit curious. It is an actual sign. Meritrust has put up a sign next to the club’s entrance advertising the credit union. The sign doesn’t say anything about pending changes, so maybe Meritrust is just seeking to advertise itself to club members. But the sign wasn’t there a few days ago. It popped up shortly after speculation started spreading across town that something was up at LAC.

I’ve put in multiple calls to Sells and stopped by the club to see him over the past several days, but have had no luck in getting a comment from him. An employee at the club declined to comment. An attorney for Meritrust also did not return a phone call seeking comment. A manager with the local Genesis Health Club also didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. I called Genesis because there has been speculation that the large Wichita-based health club chain is set to take over operations of LAC. But that very easily could be false speculation. Genesis’ name frequently comes up anytime there is speculation about a health club in the region.

Certainly speculation is a stock I trade in here at Town Talk. Normally, though, I don’t print speculation regarding businesses that may be faltering. I don’t feel it is fair to report unconfirmed information that could negatively impact the livelihood of a business’ owners and employees.

But I have given the operator of the business ample opportunity to simply say there is nothing to this, and I’ve given the owner of the property opportunity to respond as well. And, importantly, I think the nature of a health club business makes it a bit more imperative that consumers be informed of any potential changes. So often health clubs operate on multi-month memberships that are many times pre-paid.

Unfortunately, I’ve covered several health club closings or ownership changes over the years, and the issue of what happens to a person’s membership to a club often ends up being a sticky one.

Anyway, take all of this for whatever you think it is worth. As I mentioned, there are more questions than answers.

Now, back to this heavy weight bar. Here’s my No. 1 question: Why did I ever believe my wife would help lift this thing off me?