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Nautilus Fitness Center Owner and Supporters Challenge Relocation Decision Before Spartanburg City Council

by Daisy

Spartanburg, SC — In a spirited show of defiance, Nautilus Fitness Center owner John Lankford and his supporters filled the Spartanburg City Council chambers on July 8 to protest the forced relocation of his gym. The gym, situated at 160 S. Church St., is slated to be displaced due to plans for a new joint city-county municipal building.

Lankford, flanked by a crowd of passionate supporters, addressed the city council, arguing that the relocation mandate would jeopardize his 47-year-old business. “You claim this needs to be a win-win, but I fail to see how it benefits Nautilus Fitness Center,” Lankford said, citing the gym’s longstanding service to the community.

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The council’s decision, which also affects the neighboring Blue Moon Specialty Foods, stems from the need to construct infrastructure for the new development. However, the relocation of Nautilus Fitness Center is considered more urgent due to the required infrastructure.

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Lankford’s appeal resonated with many in the crowd, who applauded vigorously as eight additional speakers, including recent Spartanburg County Council candidates Bryan Alverson and Frank Tiller, voiced their support. The speakers emphasized the gym’s role in their physical and spiritual well-being.

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City Manager Chris Story, a former gym member himself, addressed the concerns during the meeting. He defended the city’s offer, stating that it exceeds the appraisal value of the property based on current market conditions. However, Lankford contended that the appraisal used for the offer is outdated and does not account for the new developments planned for downtown. Story, on the other hand, maintained that the appraisal does reflect these developments.

“The current offer is insufficient for us to relocate,” Lankford asserted after the meeting, describing the situation as a “bad feeling” of facing a relocation ultimatum. Neither Lankford nor Story disclosed the specifics of the offer, but Story confirmed that the funding would come from the county’s capital projects sales tax.

Story did not elaborate on how the negotiations might affect the development’s timeline but noted that construction was anticipated to start in 2024, with designs yet to be finalized. Lankford received a notice from city and county officials a week and a half ago, demanding that he vacate the property by the end of October.

The city has considered alternative relocation options, including a site on the same block. However, discussions stalled due to the importance of maintaining adjacent open-air surface parking for the business. Story noted that a parking garage would replace the surface parking.

While negotiations with Blue Moon Specialty Foods are ongoing, the city has not yet made a formal offer for its property. Councilwoman Ruth Littlejohn acknowledged her past membership at the gym, and Mayor Jerome Rice expressed the city’s emotional connection to Nautilus. “The issue with Nautilus did not arise overnight,” Rice said. “It weighs on us all; we all have a relationship with Nautilus. It’s part of Spartanburg, we know that.”

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