Business

Thursday, Aug 30 2012 07:07 PM

Popular racquet club closing after 35 years

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Blake Bastain swings to hit the ball while playing racquetball with Mike Beagle at What A Racket on Thursday afternoon. Bastain and Beagle said that they have been playing at What A Racket for 8 or 9 years and they don't know if they will continue to play if it closes down. "We're going to have to pick up a new hobby," said Beagle. "Because court space is too hard to find without this place."

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Kevin Haley, Julie Flanagan and Sarah Foster laugh together in the lobby of What A Racket. Foster has been going there since it first opened an says that if it closes she will miss not only the exercise but also the friendships she has made there.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    A for sale sign sits outside of What A Racket Health and Sport Center on Thursday afternoon. The center was foreclosed on in February and the last day of operation is Friday August 31.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

A different kind of foreclosure crisis is spelling the end of a popular racquet club that has operated next to Beach Park for 35 years.

Friday is expected to be the last day of operation for What a Racket, a local institution whose seven racquetball courts, squash court, weight rooms, lounge area and other amenities have continued to attract some 300 active members.

Doomed by the former building owner's financial troubles, the three-employee business has been reluctant to throw in the towel, if only because of what a vacancy there will mean for the surrounding area.

"It's going to be an eyesore," said manager Julie Flanagan, who is organizing a demonstration Tuesday in one final push for a deal that would allow the club to continue operating while the bank that owns the property seeks a new owner.

Club members expressed disappointment over the situation. Some have been members for a decade or more and would drop by on lunch breaks for a game or two.

"I'm gonna miss it," said 18-year member Raul Rojas, Bakersfield's public works director. "It's been a very close-knit group of us that've been down there for a long time."

Jennifer Blackwood, the marketing director at Bakersfield's Klassen Corp., said some employees of the architecture and construction firm spent time there regularly.

"We're sorry to see it go," she said.

Designated a fitness facility by the city because of its location, the building has had different owners over the years. Between 1997 and 2007 it was owned by Flanagan and her former husband, William.

The party they sold it to declared bankruptcy a few years ago. Although William Flanagan was able to keep the club open, mortgage payments were not being made. Connecticut-based lender UPS Capital Business Credit foreclosed in February.

UPS sued Flanagan earlier this month for some $25,000 in back rent, and the business received an eviction notice about the same time. Flanagan's offers to buy the building have been rejected.

Julie Flanagan said she wonders why there can't be some sort of arrangement made that would allow them to stay open -- and continue keeping up maintenance on the surrounding area -- until the building is sold.

"Everybody's just so upset that it has to close all of a sudden with no apparent reason," she said.

Her best hope now is that the next owner will want to lease the building back to the business. She said the real estate agent involved in the property's marketing has suggested that may yet happen.

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