BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Menlo Park officials are holding closed door meetings to discuss whether Facebook’s gym should be opened to the public.
The gym is located in the Bohannon Development along Independence Drive, which Facebook leases from developer David Bohannon.
When the hotel and three-office building project was first approved by voters in 2010, there was talk that the hotel would also feature a public 70,000-square-foot health club. However, a public health club was never put in the development agreement between Bohannon and the city. The agreement gave Bohannon eight years to deliver the hotel and other public amenities, so the city seems to be bringing up this issue at the 11th hour.
It was unclear yesterday who was the squeaky wheel that caused the city to begin discussing whether the Facebook gym should be open to the public.
Councilwoman Kirsten Keith said yesterday (July 16) that she received an email from a resident, who raised the question of whether the gym ought to be public or not. But when asked to forward that email to the Post, she said she’d have to call that resident and let him know that the Post wanted to talk to him, since the email was sent directly to her and not to the city council’s email account.
However, state law makes all emails to and from elected officials a public record if they involve government business.
“If the community wants a public gym and the city wants to do something about it, they could come and talk directly to us or Facebook,” Bohannon said yesterday (July 16). He said there are “open and direct” ways to discuss the issue, rather than in closed-door meetings.
When the Post asked Keith if she tried to get answers out for the resident, she referred a reporter to City Attorney Bill McClure.
“Originally I had understood that there would be a health facility. But now I understand that may not be the case and there are more complex legal issues involved,” Keith said. “I’m not trying to be coy, but there are legal issues and that’s why I don’t have anything else to tell you.”
‘Long and complicated’ history
McClure said that the story behind the gym — and whether it ought to be open to the public or not — is “long and complicated,” and since there are legal issues embedded in the discussion of the issue, he could not comment on the matter.
“I don’t want to enflame the issue or passions around this topic,” McClure said. “But there are always two sides to every story or situation.”
Bohannon said while the original plan was to include a publicly accessible health club, plans for the club fell through as a result of the market recovery after the recession.
So in March 2015, Bohannon asked the council for approval to tweak the plans for the hotel — to remove the 70,000-square-foot health club from the hotel, add 20 more rooms in the club’s place, and to have a 40,000-square-foot gym or health club located in the parking structure.
Around that time, Bohannon was in talks with The Bay Club Company to run the smaller health club, but because of there being other gyms and health clubs in the area, and Facebook operating another gym for its workers, the partnership didn’t work out, Bohannon said. Facebook later stepped in and leased the buildings, including the gym.