Chattanooga’s Sportsbarn selling East Brainerd site to group also planning downtown center

Fitness Central also plans new downtown Chattanooga center

Staff photo by Mike Pare / On Tuesday, the Sportsbarn fitness center on Lee Highway is shown. A local group is purchasing the facility and rebranding it as Fitness Central East.
Staff photo by Mike Pare / On Tuesday, the Sportsbarn fitness center on Lee Highway is shown. A local group is purchasing the facility and rebranding it as Fitness Central East.


Sportsbarn has agreed to sell one of its two remaining fitness centers in Chattanooga to a local group that plans to upgrade the facility and rebrand it as well as open a new location in the downtown area.

The longtime club's East center on Lee Highway is being sold to Fitness Central, said David Brock, the Sportsbarn's president.

"I'm very excited we're selling this to a group that will continue to run a health club," he said in a phone interview. "They're buying the land, building, everything but the name."

Brock said the Sportsbarn's North location on Hamill Road in Hixson will continue to operate as is.

The move comes after an earlier deal to sell the pair of Sportsbarn centers to another entity failed to close, he said.

Plans are to take over management of the East site in November, said Tim Webb, Fitness Central's managing member and a Sportsbarn devotee for nine years. He said the group has an option to purchase the site that's to close in January.

"With the Sportsbarn selling, it was leaving a hole for a premium fitness club in the Chattanooga area," he said by phone.

Webb said his partners are Kevin Roenpage, a 7-year Sportsbarn member, and Teresa Wade, who has helped run the club for 30 years.

"We put the band together and decided we wanted to make a go of it," he said.

In addition, Fitness Central officials are working on a downtown location at 2133 Rossville Ave., which Webb hopes to open next March.

Plans are to lease and revamp an existing building and offer 10,000 square feet of workout space, he said. That location also will offer outdoor space, Webb said.

When the Sportsbarn closed its downtown location at 301 Market St. on Feb. 28 after 44 years, purchased by a Missouri-based hotel chain, Webb said that created a gap and Fitness Central wants to offer a center in that part of Chattanooga.

(READ MORE: Sportsbarn sells downtown location to hotel group)

"We want to be a gym for Chattanoogans by Chattanoogans," he said.

Webb said plans are to have upscale amenities in both locations.

At the Lee Highway site, the group is to upgrade the center in phases including interior painting and taking down some offices to create more room, he said. Also, Fitness Central will enhance weight room equipment and offer more space, Webb said.

He said a second phase will include renovating locker rooms, creating individual showers, a steam room, and upgrading the hot tub. Additionally, plans are to add pickleball courts outside, Webb said.

"We're in discussions about how to get one inside," he said.

Initially, membership fees will remain the same, though they'll be restructured in January, Webb said.

"It will be the perfect complement to the downtown club," he said.

Brock said Fitness Central's acquisition of the East site is "a really good fit."

"I think these guys are the perfect guys to do that," he said. "I think they'll make the place better. They're keeping the staff. I think members will be excited. For me and for our group, that's what we were hoping for. We care about the members and care about the staff."

Members of both Sportsbarn North and Fitness Central East will continue to have access to both clubs through Jan. 31 and possibly longer, Brock said. He said existing East members will be seamlessly transferred to Fitness Central ensuring there is no disruption in access to the club.

Brock said both the East and North locations have recovered since the pandemic. He said the centers have between 1,400 and 1,500 members.

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About the sale, Brock said his group has held the Sportsbarn for 16 years, he's 66 and its youngest partner.

"This is the reality of it," he said.

Webb said his group is investing about $5 million into the venture. Also, he said the group is opening up Fitness Central to "membership investors" to the first 300 people.

"We appreciate David for giving us the opportunity to continue the spirit of the Sportsbarn," Webb said. "It has been a staple of the community for a long time. We didn't want this opportunity to go away."

The group's website is at fitnesscentralcha.com.

Earlier this year, Drury Hotels purchased the downtown property and a parking garage across the street for $9 million. An official for the chain said then the company was exploring its next steps for the tract.

"Chattanooga has so much appeal to visitors, and this location is close to key points of interest like the Tennessee Aquarium, local restaurants, the Creative Discovery Museum, the riverfront and much more," said Charles Drury III, the company's director of development, in a statement at the time.

The company currently is building a Drury Plaza Hotel on Shallowford Road near Hamilton Place mall. The company has about 150 hotels in 25 states with some 5,000 employees.

The Sportsbarn had operated at the corner of Market and Third streets since 1979. The club was founded by a group led by the late Alex Guerry, who was chief executive of over-the-counter medicine manufacturer Chattem in Chattanooga.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.


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