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Midtown Discord Mounts As Vocal Members Forced Out Of Bucktown Club

By Alisa Hauser | August 15, 2017 1:53pm
 l: Justin Larkin and David Louis got their member contracts terminated at Midtown Athletic Club.
l: Justin Larkin and David Louis got their member contracts terminated at Midtown Athletic Club.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

BUCKTOWN — Two impassioned members of Midtown Athletic Club who spoke out against changing policies and an increase in tennis court fees have been forced out.

On Monday, David Louis and Justin Larkin were told by the club's general manager Michael Mahoney that they are not welcome at the fitness and hospitality complex, 2444 N. Elston Ave. in Bucktown.

RELATED: Midtown Athletic Club Making No Small Plans: Welcome To Your 'Third Space'

A spokesman for Midtown Athletic Club confirmed on Tuesday that Louis and Larkin's memberships were terminated and can be reevaluated in one year's time. The spokesman declined to comment further.

Larkin, a sales executive, lives in Logan Square and is an avid tennis player. He joined the club a few months before a major renovation started in May 2015. The $75 million makeover has stretched on since then and parts of the club, including an outdoor pool, are scheduled to open on Aug. 25.

It is within the club's right to end memberships for any reason, according to the terms of the contract Larkin, Louis and other members sign when they join.

Larkin and Louis organized a meeting on Saturday at the club that drew 30 members with less than a day's notice.

At the meeting, Midtown tennis players expressed frustration to Mahoney over new policies starting Sept. 1 that would not allow them to make-up missed matches, altered longstanding league times and raised court booking fees by as much as 30 percent, according to Larkin and Louis.

Founded in 1970 as a tennis club and once named Midtown Tennis Club, the facility has 16 courts. Prior to the renovations, Midtown Athletic Club offered 18 tennis courts and some club members previously told DNAinfo that they perceived the reduction in courts as a sign of a waning commitment to tennis.

Mahoney, in a statement earlier this month, assured that tennis is "in the DNA" of the club.

The Saturday gathering with members, Mahoney and three other Midtown employees lasted three hours and those who could not make it were updated in a detailed email recap from Louis.

In another email shared with 191 members, Larkin encouraged members to hold out from signing up for fall programs "until we see more from Midtown leadership."  

Louis, who joined Midtown in May 2016 and works as a divorce mediator, said he's been trying to keep communication lines open between frustrated members and Midtown management.

"I'm confused that my efforts to bring forth a constructive dialogue were met the way they were. I feel like I am a loyal member and this is where I choose to play tennis. It's somewhat surreal," Louis said.

Larkin claims he was told by Mahoney, “Listen, you might think this is your club, but it’s our business."

A 35-year-old Bucktown resident who asked not to be named for fear of being kicked out, said that he's considering leaving the club. He said members "are afraid to have a conversation and speak out" because they fear losing their memberships.

"It's creating a hostile environment between membership and management. They do have a right to run the business as they feel, but if their policy is when people push back, to [expel] them, that doesn't seem like a recipe for success," the member said.

Larkin says he played tennis at the club, which has remained open during construction, an average of three days per week. A temporary fitness center and locker rooms have been carved out of the parking garage.

Also a regular in group Pilates classes, Larkin said he's referred at least a half dozen members to the club, including his next door neighbor.

"I've been a strong advocate for this club and will miss the staff. I hope they can leave the door cracked open to make this right and turn it into a good situation for their brand if they choose to reinstate us. I would accept the offer and come back for the sake of my peers and trying to improve the club, " Larkin said.

The Bucktown man who is mulling ending his membership said he joined Midtown because of its convenient location, tennis programs and the "spectacular" staff.

"It's an unbelievable turn of events. We have a professional mediator trying to mediate and he gets fired [from the club]. The reality has been dirty tennis courts [from construction] and broken fitness equipment in a parking garage. We've gotten a virtual reality gym," the man said.

Anchoring the northwest corner of Fullerton, Damen and Elston avenues and visible from the Kennedy Expy., the fitness and hospitality complex is at the crossroads of Bucktown, Logan Square, Lincoln Park and Lakeview.

The club draws about 4,000 members from those "middle of town" Chicago neighborhoods, owner Steven Schwartz previously said during a tour. The new club once open can accommodate as many as 7,000 members.

A 55-room boutique hotel named "Hotel at Midtown" on the fourth and fifth floors is scheduled to open sometime in the fall, after the fitness portion of the complex debuts.

Check out these renderings of what the completed club designed by Evanston's DMAC Architecture will look like, courtesy of ArX Solutions:


The outdoor pool will be an ice rink in winter.

A yoga room. [All renderings by DMAC Architecture/renderings ArX Solutions]

A room in the Hotel at Midtown

View the Midtown Athletic Club - DMAC Architecture Floor Plan.