Fitness club sets up shop in historic Bank of Montreal building on Stephen Avenue

By MARIO TONEGUZZI, CALGARY HERALD  01.20.2014

CALGARY - The historic downtown Bank of Montreal building, which sat vacant for more than 10 years, is springing back to life and will be the future home of GoodLife Fitness.

Just recently, Seven Generations Energy took over office space of about 25,000 square feet on the third and fourth floor of the building, at the corner of 8th Avenue and 1st Street S.W., and GoodLife will be setting up operations hopefully by the summer on the mezzanine, main floor and basement in about 24,000 square feet of space.

Maggie Schofield, executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association, said the downtown corner is an important one along the Stephen Avenue corridor and it’s exciting to see a heritage building come alive again.

“It’s an extremely vibrant area and a really important corridor and (the building has) been a real blight on that corner and it’s such a shame because it’s an extraordinarily beautiful building,” said Schofield. “It’s been an area where we’ve had issues with crime and vandalism . . . We are absolutely delighted to see that someone has embraced the building and is going to make it viable once again.

“The active use is such an important piece on the corner and on Stephen Avenue. A fitness facility may seem like an unusual execution of that building but from our perspective it provides non-standard business hour activity. So it will be open during the day but when you’ve also got weekends, evenings, and early mornings it creates that buzz and has people coming and going. It makes it more vibrant.”

A&B Sound was the last business to operate at the location, more than 10 years ago. The building, built in 1931, is owned by Steiner Properties.

The limestone-clad building features Corinthian columns, inside and outside, a 35-foot coffered ceiling in gold leaf as well as extensive use of marble.

Sue Chambers, vice-president of operations for GoodLife Fitness, said it’s going to take the company longer to build a club on the site than it normally does because of the building’s historic nature. But it’s shooting for an opening in June.

“We’re maintaining everything in it. It’s going to be our flagship club,” said Chambers. “It’s going to be a very unique club for us to build but it’s going to be the most beautiful club that we have.

“It’s hard to find that perfect location . . . We’ve been looking I bet you for five or six years for a downtown location . . . It’s just the perfect location. Everyone can walk to it. It’s just easy access. Right off the street. Great visibility. It’s so central. It’s just going to meet all our needs and to get a club downtown that size so we can have all of our facilities in there.”

The company has about 300 locations across Canada. Currently there are 12 clubs in Calgary and two in Airdrie. Another club is opening in Cochrane Wednesday. There are three more in Edmonton and one in Lethbridge.

Bernie Bayer, president of the Taurus Property Group which leased the retail space in the building, said the introduction of GoodLife will ‘re-energize” the downtown corner.

“It’s going to be another reason for people to go there,” he said. “I think we’ll see a lot more pedestrians on Stephen Avenue as a result.”

In recent years, the building underwent a massive multimillion dollar restoration.

Aly Lalani, vice-president/partner with Colliers International, which leased the office space in the building, said the third and fourth floors of the building were completely re-done.

According to a Herald heritage column in 2003, the building was described as neo-classical, clad in Manitoba tyndall stone. “Ashen green was the dominant colour in an opulent interior . . . The main entrance was framed in blue marble and crowned by a clock in a blue-and-white marble setting. Identical brass sculptures in the shape of classical Greek lamps stood on both sides of the doorway. Walls, floors, columns and counters were finished in four types of marble . . . The most impressive feature was the coffered ceiling with its moulded plaster rosettes encrusted with 917 ounces of gold leaf.”