When Kelli Roiter bought her condominium apartment at 25 Fifth Avenue, there were several things that induced her to seal the deal. She loved the handsome 14-story prewar building, its gorgeous lobby, its prime location on the Gold Coast just north of Washington Square Park – and the basement gym. “Because the building sits on a slope, one wall of the gym has windows, and there’s natural light, which is very unusual,” she says. “It was a big selling point for me.”
Over the years, however, the gym began to lose its curb appeal. “While the space had very good bones, it had become dingy, tired, and dated, especially the equipment,” Roiter says. “With exercise machines, like a lot of things, you need to stay on top of technology. It wasn’t surprising to see just one person there at a time. The gym wasn’t getting a lot of use.”
Roiter, a senior executive at an investment banking firm, decided to get on top of the problem. She ran for the board, was elected, and promptly began lobbying for a serious gym upgrade. Unlike new buildings, 25 Fifth couldn’t offer such amenities as playrooms and pools. But, she argued, the fitness center was, in fact, the condo’s best amenity – if it were modernized into a state-of-the-art
facility. “Our tenants have become younger – there are more of them in their late 30s and 40s, and they would prefer a gym in their building rather than joining one,” she says. “And a new gym would not only attract new buyers but would also increase property
values. We have the space, so why not use it effectively?”
At first, there was some resistance to the renovation, particularly from non-gym users. For their part, board members were concerned about the cost and wanted to avoid imposing assessments. “It was very hard to convince people that this spend would be good for everybody, but eventually we broke through,” says Roiter, who got the goahead to price out the project and present it to the board for approval. “The money would have to come out of our reserve fund, which meant that we had a very strict budget.”
Roiter realized that it would have to be a DIY job. “I did think about hiring a construction firm, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of people that would specialize in this kind of project,” she says. Instead, she enlisted a fellow condo owner, Clayton Orrigo, to be her right-hand man. As a broker at Compass Real Estate, which specializes in luxury properties, he has seen many high-end gyms.
“I felt that fixing ours would be one way to compete with notable buildings in the area,” Orrigo says. “But since we were working with a small room – it’s about 1,000 square feet – we needed to be more thoughtful about picking and choosing the right equipment. And we needed an efficient floor plan that would make the most of the space we had.”
The Job Begins
The first thing they tackled was the flooring, which was painted a stale, schoolhouse red. They chose black rubber fitness mats for half the room; for the rest, they installed vinyl and rubber-padded flooring with a faux wood-grain surface. “It’s called Bounce,” says Roiter. “It looks just like what you’d see on a basketball court, but it’s soft. That, combined with the black mats, upgraded the look right away with very minimal work.” The walls were repainted, and Orrigo suggested covering them with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. “It’s a little bit of an optical illusion that makes the room look bigger, so we put them everywhere we could,” he says. New light fixtures were installed, replacing the old ones, which gave off a yellowish cast that had made the old gym look drab. Roiter decided to switch to dimmable LED lights “because we didn’t want them to be glaring,” she says. “You walk into some of these gyms and it’s so bright it’s almost electric. This way, people can adjust the light to whatever they feel is appropriate.” For residents who want a little diversion with their workout, two flat-screen TVs were mounted on the walls, along with an overhead surround-sound system.
As for the exercise equipment, Roiter and Orrigo selected a range of equipment fit for a full-body workout. That includes all-new free weights, kettlebells, and BOSU balls, two gym-quality Woodway treadmills with their own TVs, and a Cybex Bravo trainer. “It fits in a corner perfectly and ends up saving a ton of space,” says Orrigo. He’s particularly fond of one item – the WaterRower rowing machine. “I saw it on House of Cards,” he says. “It’s the kind Kevin Spacey uses and it’s become pretty popular.” When one of the existing exercise bikes broke, he suggested replacing it with a next-generation Peloton, which streams indoor spin classes – live or on-demand – to its HD screen (the monthly subscription fee is $39, paid by the condominium).
The renovation was completed last winter, at a cost of $100,000. It took Roiter and Orrigo six months of planning, but the gym was closed for only a week during the actual revamp. “There was minimum disruption to residents during the work,” says 25 Fifth manager Ellen Kornfeld, vice president at Lovett Realty, who facilitated ordering the equipment and worked with the super and the vendors to assist in prepping the room. “Now the room has all the fancy toys you find in places like Equinox or New York Sports Club. Kelli and Clayton did a very good job.”
For her part, Roiter says she simply managed the project the same way she would a transaction at her firm. She gives a shout-out to Jay Solinsky at Classic Realty, the building’s sponsor and board president. “You can have a president who just says, ‘I don’t care. We’re not spending the money.’ That was absolutely not the case here.”
The condo is already reaping handsome dividends. At the gym, there has been a dramatic increase in attendance, with people waiting in line for the machines. “Before, I wouldn’t use it much because it was depressing down there,” says Orrigo. “Now I go several times a week with my trainer. It’s bright, white and clean, and it feels like your own personal gym.”
During her regular workouts, Roiter has noticed another upside. “I see real estate brokers bringing prospective buyers to see the fitness room even before showing them the apartment,” she says. “You see their faces light up, and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is really nice.’” On top of that, “the units are selling well. They’re selling above the ask. They’re selling in record time. It’s been positive all around.”