Benjamin Abeleven had never even been to the gym when he bought Burgh Healthy Hub in Helensburgh close to eight years ago.
But now he's embarking on a $4.3 million upgrade of the facility, in the hopes of providing the northern suburbs with a high-quality recreational and sports facility that will also attract people from outside the area.
Construction is starting on the first stage of the redevelopment, an extension containing a gym with fitness equipment, a purpose-built room for gymnastics, aerials, circus and tumbling, a bouldering space (which will be the biggest in Wollongong), and a green space on the roof.
The work will also include the installation of a lift to all levels in the building, accessible amenities and upgraded flooring, and a quarter-court for soccer and netball.
It is envisioned that the second stage of the redevelopment in future will include wellness spaces, a spa, a cafe, indoor and outdoor seating, underground parking, and multi-use areas.
Work to improve the facility has been on the books almost since the start.
Within two months of Mr Abeleven taking on the gym - which he did so only because he was buying a home on the block - the building was flooded and from that point, he began looking at ways to improve it.
The roof leaked, and despite stretching across seven floors, there was only stair access.
"Initially I just wanted it to be watertight, accessible, and practical for multiple uses," Mr Abeleven said.
But the arrival of $2.1 million of state government funding changed things, speeding along plans.
Mr Abeleven will put in another $2.2 million to bring the first stage to fruition, which is expected to be completed before December 2025.
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the upgrade would "not only enhance our local recreational facilities but also contribute to the overall well-being and vibrancy of our community".
Mr Abeleven said it would bring services closer to residents of Wollongong's north.
"I think for the northern suburbs, you could say there's always been this expectation to travel further, 20 to 30 minutes, to access what other people have closer," he said.
Plus, he envisions that it will bring in people who live outside the area and that will inject more money into the local community.
A special part of the project is the space dedicated to gymnastics, circus arts, aerials and tumbling, which will provide
Mr Abevelen's wife Charlie Truscott is the founder of Treetop Arts, a school for children which has grown from about 20 kids to about 260 students across 35 classes, including tumbling, parkour, gymnastics and others.
The couple even met through the gym: Ms Truscott taught a women's circus class there.
They married a year later and now have two children.
Mr Abevelen said the community could support the second stage of the project by joining the gym or signing up to a kids' program.
Burgh Healthy Hub will also offer life memberships for its gym and sponsorship opportunities.
"All profits will go towards making this happen," Mr Abevelen said.
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