The reinvigoration and repositioning of a Melville office building provided a workout for Farmingdale-based Wachtler Knopf Equities LLC, which completed a deal that allowed Equinox Fitness Clubs to open the first Long Island location of its newest gym concept, Blink Fitness.
WKE, faced with 29,000 s/f of vacant space at 121 Broadhollow Road, an office building it has managed since 2005 on behalf of an affiliate of Great Neck, NY-based Sterling Equities, needed to act.
“I thought this building, prominently located at the corner of Route 110 and Pinelawn Road and close to major highways, would appeal to retail users,” said Philip Wachtler, principal of WKE.
But retail real estate brokers were pessimistic. “They told me the site faced multiple challenges and could not be used for anything other than office use,” Wachtler said. “They told me it couldn’t be done.”
Undeterred, Wachtler set out to realize his vision. In April 2011, armed with the knowledge that Equinox was launching a new concept, he initiated a phone call to an old contact, Peter Levine, then the top real estate official with Equinox and now a broker with Connecticut-based Charter Realty & Development.
Wachtler, while in a previous position at Tilles Companies, and Levine had negotiated the placement of an Equinox club in what was a former movie theater in Woodbury.
Shortly thereafter, Levine was convinced at a viewing of the Melville property that this location would attract both workers from nearby corporate offices as well as local area residents to the new concept, Wachtler said.
With the terms of a deal in place, Wachtler Knopf’s development team got to work on what turned out to be challenging project.
Transforming the office building into a health club required WKE to overcome several obstacles, including obtaining a zoning variance in the heat of an election year. This was a good problem to have,” said Sandy Cohen, vice president of management at WKE.
“There were too many ‘Available Space’ signs on Route 110. We were committed to doing what was necessary to having ours read ‘Coming Soon’.”
WKE requested the guidance of two members of the Huntington Town Board, Susan A. Berland and Mark Cuthbertson. “They recognized the importance of the project to the local economy and offered their well-appreciated assistance in the face of their own busy schedules.” Wachtler said.
“Considering these tough economic times, it is always great to see businesses coming to Huntington and thriving and it was my pleasure to help them accomplish this goal,” Councilwoman Berland said.
With the aid of Melville real estate lawyer, Keith Archer of Harras Bloom & Archer, the change of use ruling was granted in September.
With the variance in hand, Wachtler and his staff immediately turned their focus to the other hurdles: securing additional sanitary credits and the development of the site’s waste infrastructure to accommodate the additional sanitary flow required for use by a gym.
Tom Dixon of Nelson & Pope, a Melville-based engineering firm, and Archer helped WKE obtain the water credits and design and install the infrastructure required by the Suffolk County Board of Health.
With the core of the project taking shape, WKE and Equinox’s construction management team worked with the Huntington Building Department and fire marshal’s office to convert a large portion of the existing building to a state-of-the-art health club.
In just under a year and at a cost of about $1.5 million, after negotiations and maneuvering through an elaborate approval process, Blink Fitness opened for business on March 20.
“Nothing is easy,” Wachtler said, “You start with a vision — an idea, but to bring it to the finish line takes persistence and a great deal of creativity. Now, we are home to the first Blink on Long Island.”