LA Fitness gains approval for building at Lawrence Shopping Center

The former Huffman Koos furniture store at the Lawrence Shopping Center is going to be torn down to make room for an LA Fitness facility at 2495 Brunswick Pike, Lawrence Township.

The Planning Board gave its stamp of approval to the plan, which calls for the construction of a 34,000-square-foot fitness center on the site of the former furniture store building in the northeast corner of the property.

James O’Sullivan, LA Fitness’ director of development for the northeast, told the board this LA Fitness would be a “signature club,” which offers amenities not found in a standard LA Fitness gym.

In addition to the usual fitness center facilities such as a weight room, group fitness room, cardio room and personal training room, the LA Fitness Signature Club would offer a hot yoga room and a high intensity training room, O’Sullivan said.

The fitness center will be open Monday through Thursday from 5 a.m. to midnight, and from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday. It would be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the weekend.

Board member Ian Dember asked about the club’s long-term viability, given the number of gyms and fitness centers in the area.

O’Sullivan said he has been involved in the development of nearly 100 LA Fitness clubs in New Jersey, all of which have succeeded.

LA Fitness is planning to spend about $10 million on the club at the Lawrence Shopping Center, he said. While there is no guarantee the club will be profitable from the first day, all of the clubs with which he has been involved are successful, O’Sullivan said.

When Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski, who sits on the Planning Board, asked about the number of LA Fitness clubs that have closed in the past few years, O’Sullivan said none of the clubs in which he had a hand in developing have closed.

“I value that,” Nerwinski said, adding that he would like this club to stay open.

O’Sullivan said one reason the clubs have been successful is because the operator has looked at the location and determined whether there is a need for a fitness center. Then, it looks for a landlord who shares its vision, he said.

“Clearly, the applicant has put a lot of thought into this plan,” board Chairman Ed Wiznitzer said.

Based on decades of experience, “something was not right” with the Lawrence Shopping Center, but the new owners have some ideas about how to make it work, he said.

Mayor Christopher Bobbitt, who sits on the board, was pleased with the application.

“This is my neighborhood shopping center. I see the potential in it. It has ‘good bones,’ ” Bobbitt said.

There is the potential to do well there, he said, especially if the applicant is willing to spend $10 million on the project.

Jack Jemal, a principal in JJ Operating Inc., which owns the shopping center, said demolition of the existing building could take place within the next three or four months. It will take several more months to build the new LA Fitness facility.