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President Obama's Former Gym To Reopen, This Time Legally

By Sam Cholke | January 9, 2013 6:59am | Updated on January 9, 2013 1:36pm
 President Barack Obama walks with his friend Eric Whitaker as they arrive to play basketball at a gym at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., Feb. 6, 2011.
President Barack Obama walks with his friend Eric Whitaker as they arrive to play basketball at a gym at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., Feb. 6, 2011.
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HYDE PARK — President Barack Obama’s former Hyde Park gym is coming back — but not until the new owners can legalize the once-clandestine space in Regents Park Apartments.

The fitness club at 5050 S. Cornell Ave., once a spot for Hyde Parkers to rub elbows with Obama when he was a political novice and also in his early trips back home as president, was closed last February. That's when the new owners of the building went to renew the license and discovered there was no license to renew.

The gym remains open to residents of the building’s 1,031 units, but not to members of the public.

The former owners "operated the Regents Club for years without ever registering it as a business,” said Peter Cassel, director of community development for the Silliman Group, which purchased Hyde Park’s largest apartment building in the fall of 2011.

 The president's former gym in Regents Park
The president's former gym in Regents Park
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DNAInfo/Sam Cholke

Cassel said it will take a upwards of two years to sort out all the changes made by the previous owner, Crescent Heights. Officials with Crescent Heights couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Apartments were converted to offices, a swimming pool was added, and the fitness club was installed since the building was completed in 1972, according to Cassel. Some of the work was done by the book, but much was done without permits under a discontinued zoning designation, Cassel said.

The building lies outside of the current zoning designations, classified as an R7, which was eliminated a decade ago. To bring the club back and do other updates, the building needs to be rezoned as a planned development, a lengthy process that already has taken nearly a year.

Plans to redo the front entrance of the building as a two-story glass foyer and bring the muddle of uses back in line go before their first city hearing next month at the Chicago Plan Commission.

“If that’s approved, we’ve got another couple of months of legislative work before we can apply for permits,” Cassel said, adding that construction will be a long and slow process to ease the impact on residents.

The fitness center is at the top of a project list for the building, though.

“It’s among the first things we’d like to do,” Cassel said, adding that he was unsure when it would be completed because the city approval process can be lengthy.

Obama worked out at the club going back to his days in the Illinois Senate. He later returned on trips home during his presidential campaign, when he was president-elect and on a trip home in early 2009.