The Bel Air Athletic Club will close on Feb. 16 after providing fitness, social, educational and child care opportunities to the Bel Air community for over 40 years.
The reason for the closing, according to the club’s website, is that the “the landlord decided to repurpose the property.”
“The closing of the Bel Air Athletic Club is a terrible loss for the community,” Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly said in a statement. “It’s a shame the Town of Bel Air was unable to retain such a valuable asset.”
The club, located at 658 Boulton St., is owned by Wellbridge, a Denver-based company that manages fitness properties across the country. The company purchased the club in 2000, according to health club industry reports. Wellbridge also owns the Maryland Athletic Club in Baltimore.
“Since the COVID-19 shutdowns and their continued impact on our industry, Wellbridge ownership has worked diligently with the landlord to negotiate rent that leads to a sustainable and healthy business,” according to a post on the club’s website. “In conjunction, our team has routinely gone above and beyond to serve your health and wellness needs while working to push the business back to profitable levels.”
Neither Wellbridge nor club management responded to The Aegis’ requests for information on Tuesday.
Edward Hopkins, Bel Air’s town administrator, said he was “as surprised as everyone else,” and the closing was “brand new information” for him.
“I have double checked with our Planning and Economic Development staff and no one was aware or had any inkling of their decision,” Hopkins said.
He said he was unaware of the closing until finding out Monday night via Facebook, which is how many Harford County residents discovered the news. The closure quickly became a trending topic on Facebook in Harford County, as residents posted about its demise and speculated on what will replace it. One resident shared the artistic rendering of the Shops at Harford, the new shopping center being built adjacent to Harford Mall, which shows new apartments behind the shops. The club is located behind The Shops at Harford development.
“Contrary to social media statements, we also know there is no nexus between the proposed development at Harford Mall and the [Bel Air Athletic Club],” Hopkins said. “We had no prior indication, whatsoever, of the clubs’ closing or what the corporate owner intends to do with the property once the business is closed.”
Besides fitness and other services, the athletic club offered a preschool for children ages 2 to 4, and before- and after-school programs for children in kindergarten through grade 8.
On Tuesday, Colleen Donahue, director of the First Presbyterian Preschool of Bel Air, said that she has been busy responding to panicked parents who are trying to find placement for their children in a tight market, where demand for childcare is high and openings are few. Between the time she opened and lunchtime on Tuesday, she’d given six tours to parents, fielded numerous calls and had more than 20 email inquiries about slots for their children.
“We feel for the families,” Donahue said. “The children are just getting a sense of normalcy this school year and now it’s being taken away from them. It’s 2020 all over again.”
Donahue reached out to other preschool and daycare centers through the Harford County Directors Association Facebook page to try to assist the families. Centers in Forest Hill and Bel Air responded but most admitted that availability is limited, especially for infants and toddlers.
Donahue’s center has no openings for this school year and will open registration for the next school year on Jan. 23. She said those openings will be limited since most slots will be filled by the siblings of currently enrolled children.
Donohue also asked for placements for the teachers who will be losing their jobs when the club closes next month. She said several teachers have been employed by the club for a long time and described them as “all good people and really great teachers.
“We’re just trying to problem solve,” she said. “This was not a good transition plan.”
Donahue, who has a family membership at the club, also wonders why the owners couldn’t wait until June to close the club, so the children could finish out the school year and the swim clubs can finish the season, she said.
“You’re getting rid of a wellness center when people need it the most,” she said.
Members who do not attempt to cancel their membership will be billed 50% of their monthly dues for February and will be able to use the club until Feb. 16. Anyone who does not wish to use the club during the month of February must fill out an early membership cancellation form on the club’s website by Jan. 31.
All club memberships will be canceled on Feb. 17.
The Aegis’ editor Maria Morales also contributed to this article.