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REAL ESTATE

Compiled by Michael Flagg, Times staff writer

Last year two developers who each planned a snazzy, multimillion-dollar health club in the John Wayne Airport area discussed merging and starting just one club. But the two never reached agreement.

Now one club has a long head start--it is already well under construction--but the second developer has not abandoned plans.

The first club, Sports Club/Irvine, is under construction on Koll Co. land across the San Diego Freeway from the airport. The second one, the Sporting Club on the near side of the freeway, has yet to start construction, prompting speculation that the developers might have backed out because the competition had such a lengthy head start.

Not so, said the Sporting Club, which last week asked Irvine for a building permit, usually the last stage before construction. If approved, the club hopes to begin building its $25-million facility in September and finish in about a year.

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It has taken this long to get city approval for the club and an 18-story office building that the big Laguna Niguel developer Birtcher plans to build next door. Birtcher is leasing the land to Sporting Club.

The two clubs discussed merging months ago, Birtcher executive Bill Kearns said. But talks stalled, so the clubs will go head to head sometime next year.

Both will be expensive. For instance, at Sporting Club--the one that’s not yet under construction--membership fees start at $500, plus a monthly fee of $75. The fees go up to $1,500 and $150 a month. Members get to use not only the standard health club apparatus but rock-climbing walls and a kayak run. There’s a touch of the New Age too, with several meditation rooms planned.

Sporting Club has signed up 1,500 members so far but admitted that it is tricky holding onto them when the club is not even under construction. It has negotiated use of other local health clubs to keep members happy until the building is completed.

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The problem is that “you don’t know how long people can wait,” said Janet Lossick, a regional sales director for the Sporting Club chain, which is part of San Diego developer Naiman Co. Eventually, she said, the health club hopes to have 4,000 members.

Meanwhile, the other club, Sports Club/Irvine, started earlier on the permit process and should be ready to open by the end of the year, which will give it a big leg up in competing for customers.

Sports Club/Irvine has signed up nearly 2,700 members, said Michael Talla, who also owns the trendy Sports Club/LA. Talla confirmed that he talked last year with Naiman, the other developer, about merging the clubs. He still doubts whether two such posh clubs can survive so close together, he said last week.


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