Doug Jefferies has already shown once that tighter buns can spark urban renewal. Now he's ready to buff up another neighborhood.
Jefferies is the owner of Results, the Gym, the sweat shop that serves as the architectural centerpiece of the "New U" Street. The Connecticut native came to Washington in 1989 with an interest in getting the locals to consume calories, not burn them off. He was recruited out of college, where he studied restaurant and hotel management, to open up restaurants in the D.C. area for the American Cafe; from there, he moved over to Boston Chicken.
But he lost his taste for food service while with the poultry chain, and he became a freelance personal trainer. By 1996, he had clients including current Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson and several congressmen, but he decided that professional expansion was in order.
"I was doing quite well, but I didn't want to be just a personal trainer anymore, or have just a personal training gym" he tells me. "I wanted a gym gym. You know, a real health club."
When he heard that a 28,000-square-foot industrial building near the intersection of 16th and U Streets was unoccupied and available, Jefferies began chasing a dream that friends and family thought was as oversized as Schwarzenegger's biceps.
The block wasn't exactly a hip hangout at the time, and the massive building had seen better days. Some seven decades earlier, the city's first Chrysler dealership had been housed in the four-story structure, and more recently, a restaurant supply company had used the space before going under. Though the city already teemed with health clubs, Jefferies persuaded more than a dozen investors to throw their money behind his planned $1 million overhaul of the unlikely workout spot.
Working with the Charlottesville firm of Stoneking/
Von Stork Architects, Jefferies conceived a state-of-the-art club that required few changes to the structure's quaint, sturdy exterior. The only notable augmentation was some strategic lighting to highlight all that marvelous glass.
Results opened near the end of 1996, and, justifying its founder's faith and forecasting, folks indeed flocked to the club--among the exposed columns and beams, more than 3,200 dues-paying members (most forking over $64 each month) throw steel, aerobicize, or otherwise get their blood pumping.
"I can say that every one of my original investors saw a healthy return on their investment," Jefferies says.
By now, evidence of collateral enrichment abounds. Although the revitalization of Results' block surely wouldn't have come so quickly, if ever, absent local and national economic booms that had nothing to do with Jefferies or his gym gym, it remains true that the block's chicest establishments (Chi Cha Lounge, the Rivaga Art Gallery) opened up after he came into the 'hood. And there's no denying that Jefferies' club is the most visible sign of the redux, especially when all those lights shine at night.
Jefferies doesn't shy away from his role in reanimating U Street--he tools around town in a Hummer with "Results" painted on it. And he takes the role of good neighbor quite seriously. Results has a presence at many charity functions, and his staff is under orders to go on garbage detail, over the entire block, each day before the gym opens.
"We do things like the trash pickup because I think I, like any businessman, have a responsibility to the community," Jefferies says. "It's been very gratifying to see the block blossom."
Jefferies has already targeted another blighted block to test his urban-renewal theories. In March, he acquired a 25-year lease to 315 G St. SE, the former Giddings School, an elementary school that opened in 1887. He says he'll spend more than $3.5 million to turn the 65,000-square-foot structure into his second facility, to be known as Results II.
Though he plans to construct squash courts, a restaurant, a tanning salon, and a day spa on the site, Jefferies promises, "When you drive by, it'll always look like a school."
He wants his new project to have the same positive impact on its environs as his first, and not just for fiscal reasons. Jefferies lived in various neighborhoods in the Southeast part of Capitol Hill when he first moved to Washington. He fled to Northwest after a street altercation with a stranger escalated into a near-death episode, with Jefferies screaming for his life on one side of a door while the gun-wielding assailant tried to barge through on the other.
"I loved where I lived, but I just couldn't take the crime any more," he says.
The official groundbreaking for the club was in May and was attended by various former clients, including Richardson. With everything going ahead of schedule so far, Jefferies expects the clanging of dumbbells to commence in March 2001. He's already sold 150 memberships and thinks he'll be able to sell 5,000 total. Every one of the investors in the original Results, Jefferies says, has signed on to his latest project.
Last week, while cleaning up an area of the schoolroom's attic to make space for what will eventually be the viewing area for the squash courts, workers came upon hard and fascinating proof of the antiquity of the structure. Among the surplus of blackboards and globes and other educational rubbish, they found unused theater tickets, dated Sept. 17, 1889, for a performance by a Miss Louise A. Smith, who, according to the vouchers, would be introduced by a local celebrity by the name of Frederick Douglass.
That find came within days of the news that Jefferies' application to get a tax credit for rehabbing a historic building had been denied by city officials. The rejection, according to Jefferies, will cost the business about $600,000. Friends have suggested that he ring up some of his powerful contacts, like those who appeared at the groundbreaking, to get them to lobby on behalf of Results II. Despite the amount of money at stake, however, Jefferies swears he has never considered such a tactic.
"That would be such a Washington thing to do," Jefferies laughs. "I think the reason I've been successful so far is by avoiding that type of thinking." --Dave McKenna