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Monday, Jul 28, 2014
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Life Time Fitness courts future members

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Tampa has lots of places to work out, ranging from $10-a-month weight rooms to $100-per-month health clubs.

What this region did not have was an ultra-high-end health club that included everything from metabolic testing to spas, organic food and luxury manicures, according to Life Time executives who visited Tampa on Thursday.

That put Tampa on the list for potential sites for a Life Time Fitness complex — the kind of site that can easily cost $10 million to $70 million to build and charges $140 for a single member and $290 a month for a family.

“When we looked at Tampa, there was no one else at the level where we operate,” said Life Time founder Bahram Akradi. “We want to operate at a level where no one can expect anything more, anything better.”

A Four Seasons hotel level of service, he said. That means everything from free, clean towels in the luxury locker rooms to an elaborate metabolic testing process.

Finding a site, however, wasn’t so easy. It meant locating somewhere within just a few minutes’ drive of the most affluent ZIP codes, or at least major highways so the wealthy didn’t have to drive more than about 20 minutes to work out or get a spa treatment.

“The Florida market is comprised of spotty pockets of wealth,” said Life Time Chief Operating Officer Jeff Zwiefel. “There are plenty of price-driven competitors out there, but we look to serve the top 20 percent of the market.”

When the former Robb & Stucky’s location at International Plaza became available, Life Time jumped at the chance. Now, with construction underway and just a few months until opening day in April, the executives of Life Time are looking to recruit members. The campaign started with a posh cocktail event at the Oxford Exchange restaurant and club near downtown on Thursday night.

“We want you to be the ambassadors for Life Time,” Akradi told the roughly 200 VIPs at the invitation-only cocktail party at the Oxford, and the best people to explain what makes Life Time different to their friends and colleagues.

Each new member can go through a full metabolic testing process that measures blood glucose, cholesterol and hormone levels. There’s also oxygen testing that gauges just how efficiently a person’s body is burning energy. There’s body-fat measurements and diet testing.

“Without all that, you don’t have a good roadmap,” Akradi said. A person might end up exhausting themselves running with a too-high heartbeat when really they need a slower running pace, sessions of light weight-lifting and changes to their diet.

The locker rooms have specialized air conditioning to create proper ventilation (to prevent that “gym” smell) and full-time attendants to pick up towels, hand over clean ones and keep the place tidy. Most locations have full-sized restaurants and spas.

All 108 Life Time locations last year handled 11 million meals in the restaurants, including 4.7 million shakes and smoothies, and a million spa appointments (average session cost $70). They employ 1,300 spa technicians nationwide.

Beyond that, Life Time tries to help out a member’s whole fitness life. The company has bought US Road Sports & Entertainment Group, which organizes marathons in Miami, Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and other U.S. cities. One big reason: A gym member’s health plan is tied in with those races, as well, and their retention in the club goes up tenfold.

rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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