Discussions shift from establishing lease with gym to taking over facility to use for other activities

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - The St. Helens City Council and the operators of the FARA gym discuss closure of the gym to allow the city to use the facility for its recently developed recreation program. The city owns the FARA building, but the gym operators own and insure the equipment inside, which is used by the gyms current members.The St. Helens City Council invited operators of the FARA athletic club, Tracie Murray and Janis Walters, to a public meeting this week to discuss repurposing the building from a membership-based gym to a recreation resource for the city.

In March, the city proposed FARA, which stands for Fitness and Recreation Association, begin paying a $1,500 annual lease payment to the city, something it had not been doing since the city purchased the property.

When the city purchased the former Boise Inc. paper mill property in 2014, the sale included the FARA building, but there were no decisions at the time about how to continue the partnership between FARA and its new landlord.

FARA first opened to employees of the former Boise paper mill in the 1980s, but when the mill closed in 2008, the club opened its membership.

Walters said that between then and now, no one had approached her about developing a lease agreement for the business until recently.

During discussions this week, the City Council seemed to shift its intent toward using the gym facility and its large indoor basketball court for hosting recreation programs, and the conversation steered toward ending FARAs current operation in the building.

The city only recently announced its plans for a parks and rec program in collaboration with the St. Helens School District.

FARA serves about 100 customers currently, and monthly membership fees range between $25 and $50.

Although FARA is not a registered nonprofit, Janis and Walters said they do not operate the athletic club to make money. They own and insure the equipment inside the building, but not the building itself.

Murray and Walters said they have no negative feelings about closing the gym, and Walters noted that the property belongs to the city, and said city officials should be able to use the building to meet city need. Walters also noted that the gym has had a good run since it first opened.

City Finance Director Matt Brown said the building would require approximately $50,000 in upgrades before the space could be used for hosting public events and activities, including some roofing work.

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