By B.C. Manion
The Cheval Athletic Club – once only available to residents of the exclusive community — has put out the welcome mat for people living outside its gates.
Larry King Jr., son of the famed television interviewer, purchased the athletic club last year.
King said, via email, that he has lived in Cheval for nearly 10 years and saw an opportunity to improve the club for the community, and to provide quality equipment that members could enjoy with their families.
He purchased the property last November.
“At this point, and we are not done yet, but I expect to invest $350,000-$500,000 in improvements in this effort,” King said.
Before he began the upgrade, King said he surveyed the community and researched other clubs in Tampa Bay and elsewhere.
“I was looking to match the demand for services I was hearing from the potential customer to the best of what is available in and out of our area,” he said.
The club, at 4142 Cheval Blvd., already has launched a broad selection of fitness classes and soon will initiate a summer camp for kids, said Pete Young, director of youth development for the club. It also plans to offer an after-school program at the beginning of the coming school year.
King said he built his programming around existing and potential club members.
“I asked them what they wanted and what they needed,” he said.
His first goal is to meet the demand of the Cheval community, he said. But he also wanted to make the facility available to others, if they want to take part.
In addition to its current offerings, the club staff will listen to members to see if there’s demand for additional programs, he said.
Young said King has been renovating the club ever since he purchased it.
“This is a brand new workout room. It used to be the tennis pro shop,” Young said, during a recent tour of the facility. King knocked down a wall in the room and expanded it, stocking the enlarged space with fitness equipment.
He also renovated the group exercise room.
“This used to be a dumpy workout room with some really bad cardiovascular and weight-training equipment. They just completely gutted it,” Young said.
There also is a new spinning room upstairs, equipped with 20 top-of-the-line bikes for group exercise classes.
“These are much, much better facilities now and they have the personnel that can operate a high-end fitness facility, with group exercise programs and private exercise program as well,” Young said.
King also has assembled a highly respected staff, Young said.
Dayna Davidson is the new director of fitness for the facility and Jill Martino is in charge of group exercise.
“Anybody who is seriously interested in fitness in this area will be impressed,” Young said. “Everybody knows Jill Martino. She is extremely well regarded. She’s as well known as any group exercise instructor in this area.”
Group exercise options include indoor cycling, swimming, TRX boot camp, tai chi, kickboxing, yoga stretch, silver spin, zumba and yoga. They also are forming a triathlon club.
The club offers personal training, heart rate training, explosive speed and power training. The summer program for students in kindergarten through eighth-grade is called Camp Cheval 2012. It will begin the week of June 11 and will run for 10 weeks, concluding on Aug. 17.
The camp borrows on the theme of the 2012 Olympic games, Young said. Each week has a theme, such as “Let the Games Begin! Opening Ceremony,” “Be amazing, Go for the Gold,” “In the Nick of Time,” and “Survival of the Fittest.”
The kids in this inaugural camp will be the first to test out the new playground equipment, the new sand volleyball court and the half-court basketball courts. They’ll also be able to go for a dip in the club’s swimming pool and get a workout on its tennis courts.
Kids will be grouped by age for activities. Families can sign up for as much or as little as they want, Young said.
“You can do a single day. You can do half-days for a week. You can do full days for a week, or you can do two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, 10 weeks – whatever combination you want.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Cheval member or not a member, although the pricing is different. The most a member would pay a week for Camp Cheval is $150 a week; and the most a non-member would pay is $190. That’s full day.”
The drop-off will be from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and pickup would be no later than 6:30 p.m.
In the after-school program, kids would do their homework and then be able to take advantage of the club’s facilities, which include television screens for Xbox and Wii games, a racecar simulator, a flight simulator, air hockey, skee ball and a basketball game.
Young said the club has sent out mailers announcing the upgraded facilities and expanded programming to residents of Cheval and the nearby communities of Heritage Harbor, Villa Rosa, Calusa Trace and several small communities in between.
Residents in Land O’ Lakes, Wesley Chapel and other communities also are welcome to take advantage of the facility and programming, Young said.
King is confident the venture will be successful.
“I am very passionate about this business opportunity,” he said. While recognizing there are no guarantees, he cited three reasons he expects his team to succeed.
“We are hiring the best people. It starts there. Just making all these improvements does not make a difference if we do not have the best team to support our members.”
Second, there is a strong customer demand, he said. “Response to a normal survey is 3 percent, tops. When I surveyed the community the response rate was 18 percent. This validated what I heard talking to neighbors in the community: People wanted to see the club improved and were tired of past failed promises to do something.”
Third, he and his staff are passionate and committed to making the club the best.
For more information about the athletic club’s offerings, call (813) 949-8281 or visit www.chevalac.com.