Parker: Telsec transforms former downtown YMCA into Eau Claire Athletic Club

There is definitely a demand for a high-end recreational club

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Telsec Property Corp. purchased the former downtown YMCA building in 2022. President Kris Van Grieken says he wasn’t sure what he would do with it, but the location in the heart of Eau Claire was a gem, and he was excited to be back in the core.

Telsec was founded by his father, Dick, in 1976, and one of the classic downtown buildings he developed was the attractive home of Supreme Men’s Wear at the corner of 4th Street and 4th Avenue S.W. The purchase of the YMCA building that had become a pleasant landmark in the city since being built in 1987 offered 115,000 square feet over four levels. First thoughts were to get the site rezoned to allow for changes that might include high density residential.

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In Eau Claire, close to the river and walking distance to anywhere in the core, meant it would be ideal for two or three apartment towers. Another idea was to offer it for institutional — possibly a downtown campus for a school. but Van Grieken says the more he toured the building the more he fell in love with it and wanted a use that would keep the well-built bones.

Touring North America, he looked at recreational, health and fitness clubs, and did a detailed market assessment on the viability of restoring the YMCA to its former glory — the infrastructure is still there.

There is definitely a demand for a high-end recreational club; there is a two-and-a-half year waiting list to join the Calgary Winter Club, and people wanting to join the Glencoe Club must bide their time for around 13 years.

Former members were contacted and Van Grieken says he was overwhelmed by the number of people wanting to share their personal relationships with the YMCA — stories of 5 a.m. swims and drop-in basketball.

The idea soon galvanized into a conceivable project and became a surety when Telsec hired Alix Williams as the COO of what has been renamed the Eau Claire Athletic Club (ECAC).

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Williams was brought up in Victoria but came to Calgary to earn her fine arts degree at the University of Calgary. After graduation, she started her own marketing consulting firm, primarily working within the high-tech sector, with clients across North America.

After a break to have children, she was invited to join the executive team at the Calgary Winter Club as director of strategy and experience; lots of involvement in corporate affairs, capital expansion and interrelationships with members.

Williams — who says she greatly benefited from the mentorship of the club’s CEO, general manager and Olympian Kevin Boyles — is excited to be recruiting and leading a team at ECAC.

Many of the existing facilities will be put back to use, including the 25-metre, six-lane swimming pool, squash courts, gymnasium and running track. Plans are to add new programs in those existing spaces, such as four pickle ball courts in the gym and new equipment in the 15,000-square-foot fitness centre.

New amenities will be a casual dining room and organic café to be built on the main floor, where a 10,000-square-foot locker-room was situated. In the same space, she will introduce four golf simulators and two Formula 1One racing simulators. Adjacent to the pool area, plans are to open a Nordic spa, including hot/cold Halo hydrotherapy and infra red saunas.

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High-end, custom-milled locker-rooms are to be built on the second floor, boasting showers, steam rooms and premier vanity stations. Decisions are still being considered as to contracting out a wellness and medical centre to a third party.

Williams is gung-ho about launching the ECAC, working hard but still finding the time to be back at Haskayne School of Business nearing the completion of her MBA.

Van Grieken says he’s hopeful of an ECAC opening date in early 2025. Meanwhile, it is gearing up to offer corporate, individual and family memberships.

Notes:

Adrian Stimson, a member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation, has been appointed as chair of the board of governors of Alberta University of the Arts, its first Indigenous chair. He succeeds Carol Ryder, who served as board chair for the past 10 years, starting when the university was formerly the Alberta College of Art and Design.

David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at calgaryherald.com/business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622.

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