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Exclusive: The Making of a Sports Resort at Midtown Athletic Club

Its vast expansion, opening in July, will include a 55-room hotel with a suite designed by V Starr Interiors, Venus Williams’s design firm—and an outdoor pool that transforms into an ice rink in winter.

Rendering courtesy of ArX Solutions

This summer, Chicago will see the opening of yet another new hotel, though this one’s going to be different than anything we’ve seen in the city before—or really in any other city in the U.S. That’s because this hotel is opening within a massive six-level fitness club that feels more like a lux sports resort, all of it part of the $75 million transformation happening at the Midtown Athletic Club Chicago.

Growing from 150,000 to 575,000 square feet, this unique space designed by Evanston-based DMAC Architecture is a mind bender at first, mostly because there are no comparables. Hotel gyms usually open within a hotel, not the other way around. Professional athletes don’t usually design hotel rooms, but V Starr Interiors, Venus Williams’ design firm, is designing one of Midtown’s four new suites as well as its tennis lounge. And fitness clubs in Chicago don’t usually come with multiple huge pools and outdoor decks—one of which will be transformed into an ice hockey rink come winter, accessible by a Zamboni—but that’s the plan here.

There’s more, too, with expanded new programming to fill six new floors, all of it transforming this classic tennis club into Chicago’s first vertical sports resort.

Following an exclusive tour earlier this week, here’s a first look at the highlights.

A New Boutique Hotel

Michael Mahoney, Midtown’s senior vice president and general manager, describes the new hotel as the answer for active travelers: “Our wake up call is a fitness class.” Spanning the fourth and fifth floors, the 55-room hotel will include four suites, one designed by Venus Williams, and the other a two-story presidential suite. Renderings depict modern, 385-square-foot rooms dressed in pretty shades of stone, and sleek wood and fabric furnishings.

For a sense of the enormous scale of the club, consider that the hotel is 35,000 square feet—just six percent of the entire property.

Expanded Fitness Programming

In addition to Midtown’s existing tennis program, the new club will offer a dizzying assortment of fitness options available across the club’s first three floors. There’s CrossFit and performance programs on a 40-foot turf field, a fitness floor with cardio and strength equipment, three squash courts, a boxing studio, two golf simulators, a cycling studio, and a NBA-size basketball court.

An Asian-inspired entry space with upholstered wall coverings sets the scene for Pilates and yoga studios. In the latter studio, yogis will be swooning over leathery mesquite flooring, diffused lighting, infrared heat panels, and an ambient wooden, full-scale tree structure at the center of the room.

Pools and More Pools

Midtown Athletic Club will have four new pools, two of which are definitely swimmer’s pools. (Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s people have already called to see when the club will open.) Indoors, find a 100-foot lap pool with a moveable bulkhead that can be used to create two separate pools of various sizes, and an indoor hydrotherapy pool. Outside, find a 100-foot pool that includes a 25-foot children’s swimming area as well as another hydrotherapy pool, this one with a cenote-inspired design.

Fresh Air and Outdoor Spaces

Despite the immediate, not-so-scenic location of the club at Fullerton and Damen, there’s a palatable embrace of fresh air and perspective no matter which floor you’re on. The second floor is the nexus of the club, in that it houses social gathering spaces (like the 122-seat restaurant and bar) and opens up to a massive outdoor deck where you find the 100-foot pool in summer or the ice hockey rink in winter. A roomy group-exercise studio on the same floor also offers skyline views and doors that can be opened to enjoy the weather. Fitness spaces on the third floor open up to an outdoor deck that overlooks the pool deck below. On the sixth-floor, a rooftop party deck brings a full panorama and views from Lakeview to the Loop.

A Real Resort Vibe

Start on the first floor at the spa with its five treatment rooms, which is at the center of the women’s and men’s locker rooms, each with their own sauna and steam rooms. Products that will be featured in the locker rooms include Eminence and Bumble & Bumble, plus Baxter of California for men. Get centered with Pilates or boxing, head to the restaurant or dine outside on the terrace with a rosé for lunch, then hit a lounge chair by the pool. Point is, you’ll want to come here to do more than work out.

Active Options Galore for Kids

Midtown’s new children’s club and nursery will offer indoor and outdoor play spaces, but expanded fitness options for kids will be the draw. Think golf lessons, basketball coaching, swim team and water polo, boxing and group exercise, and sports camps, not to be outdone by high performance tennis camps that will occasionally include instruction from Venus Williams herself.

Flow

There is no getting around the size of this club, which can be daunting. But there’s an intuitive flow to it that makes it easy to get around. DMAC’s principal Dwayne MacEwen explained the design as an expression of the choreographed relationships between the club’s many spaces. “For example, the fitness areas visually connect with the terrace, the restaurant is seen as an indoor-outdoor space that’s also open to workout areas, and the building itself is fluidly layered vertically to enhance visual relationships between areas like the hotel and outdoor pool,” says MacEwen. “There are no static point A to B corridors, but rather, a collection of spaces and experiences.”

The new Midtown Athletic Club is scheduled to open July 15. Rooms will average $200 a night and membership dues for an individual as of August 1, 2017, will be $180 a month. 

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