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Petaluma Valley Athletic Club closing

Connie Madrid has been a member of the Petaluma Valley Athletic Club for decades, stopping by the Corona Road facility a couple of times each week to swim, workout and see the friendly faces of other longtime members who appreciate the community that the family-owned club fosters.

Madrid, a Petaluma mortgage broker, said she was sad to learn that the club would be closing its doors later this year after the owners sold the property to a local church.

“I intended to have my grandkids learn to swim there,” she said. “It’s a nice family club. They wanted to create a community environment, and everyone bought into that. A lot of people are upset.”

Originally built as a racquetball club in 1977, owners Rob and Martha Domont bought the club in 1998 and transformed the facility into a family-friendly gym while donating money back to the Petaluma community. Rob Domont was unreachable at the club last week, but he told the Petaluma Planning Commission on Jan. 10 that running the facility was no longer feasible in the current economy.

“Unfortunately, the economics of this town have changed,” he said.

He said the influx of big chain gyms, like City Sports and Active Sports Club made it hard to compete. He said he spoke with other club owners about taking over Petaluma Valley Athletic Club and even explored a member-owned model, but ultimately, the numbers did not pencil out.

“We lost a lot of people to a $35 per month club,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have not been able to make this club work financially any longer. We are at a place in our business where the club is going to cease to exist. We just have to sell and move on.”

The gym, which feature the only racquetball courts in Petaluma, will likely become a church after the planning commission approved a zoning change to allow a church and school at the 85 Corona Road property. The procedural move is the first step in a process that will allow 360 Church of Petaluma to purchase the facility and move the congregation that has been housed in industrial space on Lindberg Lane.

Founding Pastor Colton Irving said that he did not plan to make any changes to the gym’s buildings. He said future plans call for relocating Harvest Christian School, the 167-student academy on Lakeville Highway, to the Corona Road property, pending a conditional use permit. The lease on the K-8th grade school is up in two years, and Irving said he has been looking for the past 10 years for a more permanent home.

Irving said that he was merely looking for a better location for his church and did not want to be blamed for Petaluma Valley Athletic Club going out of business.

“I don’t want to be the bad guy here,” he said. “I’m a member of the club too. The opportunity came to us several months ago. I’ve been working through that. It’s not easy to find a good place for churches and schools.”

The planning commission received several letters from gym members who protested the conversion to a church. Irving said that he knows a lot of people will miss the club.

“I understand the emotions tied to it,” he said. “I have some emotions tied to my own building that I’m potentially leaving.”

In a letter, member Beverley Meyers urged the planning commission to maintain the property as an athletic club in the hopes that the facility could be saved.

“I understand that the club is a business, but I also believe that every effort should be made to maintain PVAC’s existing use,” she wrote. “For the over 1,000 members, with a significant number playing tennis, it is detrimental to these Petaluma residents for this facility not to be maintained with its existing seven tennis courts and three racquetball courts. … PVAC’s longterm and valued employees will also lose their jobs.”

The Petaluma City Council must ratify the planning commission’s move, a decision that is likely to be contentious and result in an appeal.

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)