GALVESTON — The city council will vote on whether to allow the Galveston Health and Racquet Club to transfer its land lease to the owners of the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark, a move that would most likely spell the end for the 38-year-old fitness club.
Health club owner Tom Cook said Monday that the club had not been sold to Schlitterbahn Waterparks, but he would be amenable to a sale if it could be completed before the end of the year.
“We have agreed to assign the lease to Schlitterbahn if they agree to purchase the assets,” said Cook, who has owned the health club for 38 years. Cook said if a sale occurs, he would want it to occur under the current tax law.
In a letter to the council, Schlitterbahn CEO Gary Henry said if a sale was successful, Schlitterbahn would close the club, 2318 83rd St., and repurpose the property for “waterpark activities.” Some of the existing land would be turned into additional parking and buildings would be turned into office and storage space.
Other land would be used for new rides, which could be built before the 2013 season.
“I think that this program would be the high and best use of the club, bringing additional jobs, revenue and visitation to the city of Galveston,” Henry wrote.
Cook, 73, opened the club in 1974 as a swimming and tennis facility. He later constructed a 12,000 square foot building to be used as a children’s fitness center, but that closed in March 2012. Cook said he has been trying to lease the space since the business closed, and “for lease” signs were recently spotted near that building. But he also said a sale to the waterpark would supersede any business there.
Cook said the club has been for sale since Hurricane Ike, which drove away many island residents who had been his regular customers.
“Since the storm, I’ve been wanting to think about an exit strategy,” said Cook, who added that the club’s membership had dwindled from about 1,300 members before the storm to below 900.
“It’s going to be a bit hard not to have it on my plate,” said Cook.
Both the health club and the water park are on city-owned land east of Scholes International Airport. Cook said there are 37 years remaining on his lease.
The 26-acre Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark opened in 2006 on property that was once owned by Farmers Marine Copper Work. The park land is fully developed, and parking has been maximized, limiting the park’s ability to grow and accept more customers, Henry wrote to the city council.
In August, Cook offered to sell the club’s pool to the city to use a public swimming pool for $525,000, but that offer was not taken up due in part to the pool’s distance from central Galveston and its relatively small size.
The city council also considered outright buying the club in 2010, but then-City Manager Steve LeBlanc rejected the proposal because of the cost that would be required to maintain the club.
A majority vote of council would be required to transfer the lease from Cook to Schlitterbahn. Barring unforeseen problems, it should be passed easily, city officials said.
City manager Michael Kovacs said the council could not vote against the proposed transfer unless it had a reasonable objection against it.
The end of the health club would not mean the end of racquetball on the island. The McGuire Dent Recreation Center, which opened in 2009, has two courts that can be used free of charge.