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Mark Stables of Benchmark, left, and L-Tower site supervisor Eddie Estrela go over plans in the space where the fitness area will be in the condominium tower under construction inToronto. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and)
Mark Stables of Benchmark, left, and L-Tower site supervisor Eddie Estrela go over plans in the space where the fitness area will be in the condominium tower under construction inToronto. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and)

Condo builders offering a fitter place to live Add to ...

The gym on the second floor of the Hudson is among the better examples of condominium fitness spaces in Toronto. Bathed in natural light, much of the room boasts a double height ceiling and the cardio machines all face out towards the downtown skyline.

But only when lying on an exercise bench looking up does it become obvious that the blinding pot lights were a poor choice. Indirect lighting would have been better. Although there is a defibrillator and a ballet barre, there's no water cooler. The weight training equipment seems to have been arranged with little rhyme or reason. And does anyone even use that ab thingy?

These are some of the points that Mark Stables is commending and critiquing in order to differentiate his approach to condo gyms. A personal trainer for 15 years, Mr. Stables is now expanding into fitness amenity design, which can include, but is not limited to, conceiving the space pre-construction, determining the most appropriate equipment for each building and providing exercise classes and wellness services once residents move in.

It's a smart and innovative strategy that caters to body conscious twentysomethings and aging boomers alike. Once an afterthought, the condo gym is no longer a windowless room with a treadmill, rowing machine and a pile of free weights.

Under the name Movement Haus, Mr. Stables envisions a lifestyle brand that will serve as a compelling feature for purchasers much the same way that a big-name interior designer or European kitchen appliances offer cachet.

Already, he is working with the Cityzen, the developers of L Tower, Backstage and Pier 27, and The St. Thomas, a Minto property. He says Urban Capital (Tableau, Nicholas) and Bazis (Exhibit) are on board. Mr. Stables is also revamping the gym at One St. Thomas and is proposing to do the same at 99 Avenue Road, the Memphis and DNA.

Mr. Stables, who is temporarily living at the Hudson as he awaits the completion of his condo in Corktown, explains that his goal is to offer a turnkey experience that will be customized for each property while also implementing a signature look and feel.

"You have developers and marketing teams calling their gyms five-star, world-class, premium, state of the art, but if I ask them if they can specifically tell me what a state-of-the-art fitness amenity is, they don't know. They're buzzwords," he says. "Now we're actually benchmarking what those fitness amenities should be for purchasers buying pre-construction so they know what they're getting."

Mr. Stables's background is kinesiology, not architecture, but he insists that since founding his fitness consulting company Benchmark Group in 1999, he has spent enough time in condo gyms to know what works and what doesn't.

"It's sophisticated, functional design," he says. "When speaking with developers and interior designers, I'm not going to challenge them on wall treatments. That's their forte. They're asking me where the mirrors go, what flooring to use."

To create Movement Haus, he charges an initial fee that ranges between $3,000-$5,000. Additionally, he requests an exclusive marketing agreement with the developers. "When people move during interim occupancy, I'm asking the developer to promote Benchmark Group as the preferred service provider and to hand out welcome packages. And then once condo board elected, it's up to them. But there's no cost at this point - it's value added."

Indeed, Sam Crignano a partner in Cityzen, the developer of L Tower, agrees that Mr. Stables's expertise translates into another level of premium positioning in an ultra-competitive market. "Everyone has raised the bar," he says, noting that building amenities are getting increasingly elaborate but can lack the follow-through. "Mark brings the ongoing programming to the table. A lot of these new condos have spas but they're unused because no one is there to coordinate [them]"

This is why Ben Myers suggest that some developers have been inclined to forgo fitness facilities altogether, especially when a building is located in an urban area surrounded by gyms. "It keeps the maintenance fees down," says the editor and executive vice president of Urbanation, which tracks the condo market. "They can sell the space as another unit and reduce fees instead of it being a fitness room."

Still, he says that fitness amenities foster a sense of community and the branding component can be incentivizing. "If someone can associate what you have on site with something they know and associate positively with, it will be good for sales."

Mr. Stables's initiative is not unprecedented. DNA initially wanted well-known Toronto trainer George Chaker to open an outpost of Diesel gym within the condo in 2003. Ultimately, he ended up taking a consultant role and has done the same more recently with Fly Condos.

"We talked about what it needs - how many people will be using the space and the budget," says Mr. Chaker, who says he advised on matters such as where to position the treadmills and cardio equipment and the creation of an outdoor area for yoga.

While he does not expect to oversee classes, he has not ruled out a satellite space for Quadspin, the indoor cycling mini-chain where he now devotes most of his time. He says Fly was a "quick and easy fit" but he has no intention of branching out further.

In this way, Mr. Stables is hoping that Movement Haus has the early edge over anyone else who sees the potential in fitness amenity design.

"It's not only what he's currently doing but what he will do along the way," says Cityzen's Mr. Crignano, explaining that condos continue to attract a wider demographic. "It's how families will live in these buildings. [Mark]will be part of that exercise, designing amenities for kids of various ages."

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