TAMPA — For decades they housed mechanics and machinists and the semi-trucks that pulled in and out of the industrial park not far from the University of Tampa. UT spread out and commercial businesses came and went, but the warehouses remained, as constant a presence as the hum of the machinery within their walls.
Now a different sound is coming from in and around the vast buildings: the sound of sweat being formed.
The trend fueling the transformation of this neighborhood is an unlikely one - exercise. Hard-core, sweaty exercise.
Three warehouses in the area now house not industrial machines and blue-collar employees but specialized gym equipment catering to a customer base looking for something more primal than Pilates.
Two locations have been transformed into Crossfit gyms and one is a strength and conditioning gym, where men and women flip tires weighing hundreds of pounds, push metal sleds carrying loads of weights and lift and carry cement and granite balls as a strength exercise.
The rooms are austere and don’t have the comforts of commercial gymnasiums or the latest equipment like treadmills, ellipticals machines and stair steppers. In the warehouse there is no air conditioning, the lighting is dim and the walls are bare.
“I like the warehouse setting,” said Nathan Sobczak, owner of Crossfit Malicious, who moved to his current location at 602 N. Newport Ave., two years ago from a smaller warehouse not far away. “I like walking in and the gym smelling like sweat.”
Jack Brubaker was the listing agent on the Newport warehouse site. At the time, he was contemplating what manufacturing business could move into the 10,000-square-foot space. The warehouse was built in 1962 and functioned for three decades as an aircraft parts distributor, said Brubaker, a real estate associate for Andretta Properties of Tampa.
Then Sobczak contacted him. He looked at the building and talked about where he could put weights and equipment, and Brubaker saw the light. The same factors that made the warehouses suitable for manufacturing companies – the large square footage, sparse layout, central location and reasonable price – were also ideal for gym owners.
In a commercial storefront or strip center, they couldn’t roll or flip the large tires around without causing a disruption. In a traditional commercial lot, they couldn’t take their workouts outside.
The warehouses have other advantages. High ceilings, for example - perfect for dangling ropes and gymnastic rings used in training.
Brubaker said the space was available because traditional manufacturing businesses have moved outside the central Tampa location to newer, more modern warehouses with larger parking lots near Tampa International Airport, East Tampa along U.S. 301 and Oldsmar. Those areas are convenient for semi-trucks dropping off and delivering material and products.
He isn’t surprised how the warehouse space has taken on a new life.
“The most creative are the people that are doing the business, creating the business,” Brubaker said.
“I wish I had thought of that.”
The gyms are attracting customers like Lorie Vance, who loves the Crossfit workouts because of the variety of the exercises. She says she can feel how her body is worked from head to toe.
At 52, the hard-core exercise helps keep her fit and functional as she gets older, she said. She can now dead lift 285 pounds, back squat 235 pounds and front squat 185 pounds, she said.
The setting is a plus, said Vance, who has been Sobczak’s student for six years.
“I like the garage look,” she said. “It’s so old school. No machines. It’s all physical, mental toughness to get through this.”
Down the street from Sobczak’s gym, Alan Molina and Scott Stiefeld two years ago moved their Elite Strength & Conditioning gym from South Tampa to 1221 W. Cass St. The location has been an automotive garage, call center and a political campaign office over the years, Molina said.
Now the location is filled with weights, bars, chains and bands used for stretching and resistance. They have eight hurdles for an exercise in hip mobility and warm up. Long, thick ropes are used for battle rope conditioning exercises. To build strength, they use kegs filled with lead, water and sand, and atlas stones made of granite.
“It’s outside-the-box training,” said Molina, 33. “It’s a little edgy.”
“People are starting to realize that they don’t need commercial gym machinery to get to their fitness goals,” said Molina, a graduate of the University of South Florida with a double major in exercise science and psychology.
Molina and Stiefeld are in a 6,000-square-foot building. They use 4,000 square feet and sublease a room to Diamond Pilates and another room to Ryde for Life, which features indoor cycling and spinning classes. Molina’s wife runs Sunrise Sports Nutrition & Wellness from the Cass Street location.
Scott Peek worked out recently at Elite Strength & Conditioning. He’s a former University of Florida fullback who graduated in May.
He likes the gym. There’s something about the ambiance that’s inviting, he said.
“It’s a lot different from any other gym,” said Peek, 23. “I like how it’s a sweat box. You’re here to work, not stand by a machine and talk to people.”