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WIN Institute concept survives tough times

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BASALT – A handful of Roaring Fork Valley residents dedicated to alternative health care has rallied to keep the midvalley’s WIN Institute alive after the economic crisis threatened to derail the vision of the founder.

Shawn Hunsberger took over the lease of the WIN Institute gym after he reported for work as a personal fitness trainer about eight weeks ago and found the doors locked.

“After the first of the year, control of most of the building went back to the [lender], Alpine Bank,” Hunsberger said.

After a quick assessment of the business prospects, Hunsberger secured a lease from the bank and simultaneously negotiated to buy the gym’s equipment from Dr. Dave Jensen.

Jensen, widely known as Dr. Dave, founded the WIN Institute along with his wife Dee, and had been the gym’s owner. Hunsberger reopened the facility as Phoenix Fitness Gym, preserving a place for about 400 clients to work out on their own, work with personal trainers and take a variety of classes.

Frank McSwain Jr. seized a similar opportunity to open Transformative Yoga and Fitness in a studio next to Hunsberger’s gym. McSwain reached a handshake agreement with Jensen last fall during the financial “turbulence” to open the yoga studio. When Alpine Bank took over control of the facility after a foreclosure, McSwain also negotiated a lease with the bank to keep the yoga studio going.

McSwain said he, Hunsberger and the other tenants in the building are committed to the concept of an integrated system of alternative health care that was Jensen’s founding principle at the WIN Institute.

With all due respect to Jensen, McSwain said, “The WIN is bigger than Dr. Dave. Other people, call them lieutenants or whatever, stepped up. The doors were locked. We unlocked them.”

McSwain and a Denver partner, Patrick Harrington, are leasing a 1,500-square-foot studio that can hold about 40 students. It offers 26 weekly yoga classes, mixing a variety of styles.

“We really and truly try to have a diverse yoga menu,” he said.

McSwain is a businessman, not a yoga instructor. He patterned the studio after what he wants as a customer. His intent, he said, is to attract new people to yoga rather than “cannibalize” the existing market by taking other studios’ customers.

He says the strategy is working. “Our numbers are growing every month,” he said.

Hunsberger, who has been a personal trainer for six years, has also built a loyal following as an instructor of a specialized “spin” class on stationary bicycles. He purchased several high-end bicycles for his spin class at the WIN when he was essentially subleasing from Jensen. When the doors were locked, his options were relocating to another gym for his class, as well as paying a fee to use a club as a trainer, or take over the lease at the WIN. He went the latter route, figuring it was economical and provided him with the opportunity to pursue his dream of running his own gym.

“I’ve been doing this for six years, and I had been at five gyms,” Hunsberger said. All of them have closed.

McSwain credited Hunsberger with making a bold move that also saved hundreds of clients the hassle of finding new places to work out or giving up their workouts.

Hunsberger said there was a bit of a fear factor making the move because of the state of the economy. He tapped his savings to take over the gym.

He and McSwain work closely together. Their customers share showers, locker space and a steam room.

Other business operators who maintained their offices at the WIN Institute include Dr. John Hughes at Aspen Integrative Medicine; Aaron Nickamin of East Meets West Preventative Medicine; and David Joshua Nickamin, who offers integrative massage and bodywork therapies. The WIN Institute also includes a medical marijuana dispensary.

Jensen is now an anchor tenant with his chiropractic business rather than the owner. The WIN Institute was his longtime vision. He built it next to the Mid Valley Medical Center, a standard medical clinic, to make it easier for Roaring Fork Valley residents to blend their types of care. (Jensen’s complete vision is explained at the WIN’s website, http://www.winhealthinstitute.com/).

His corporation, Mid Valley Wellness Institute, built the 33,620-square-foot building in 2007 and opened the facility in 2008, about the time the national recession heated up.

Jensen has said he was unable to convert his construction loan into a standard mortgage, placing the operation on tenuous financial footing. The building went to foreclosure sale on Sept. 9, 2009. Documents filed at the Eagle County Treasurer’s Office show Jensen’s corporation had a loan for nearly $7.2 million from Alpine Bank. The interest rate was fixed at 8.5 percent.

Alpine Bank was the only bidder in the foreclosure sale. The bank assigned a confirmation deed to Roaring Fork Real Estate Solutions LLC a short time later. Real Estate Solutions has the same address as Alpine Bank in Aspen. In some cases where it has repossessed property in the midvalley, Alpine Bank has created a affiliated corporation to manage its asset.

Jensen said he is working on a restructuring plan to buy the building back from Alpine Bank and keep his dream alive. He believes the concept remains viable because there is demand in the Roaring Fork Valley for that approach to health care. He is grateful that business operators have stepped up to keep the components of the institute in place. Business at the various offices has picked up in recent months, he said.

“The only problem is the real estate,” Jensen said.

Ruth Kruger, a commercial real estate agent who has been working with Jensen, said they hope to attract one investor or a handful of investors who share the vision for an integrated alternative health care facility. Alpine Bank is aware of Jensen’s intent and is working with them, she said.

“No pun intended, it will be win, win, win,” Kruger said, referring to the situation for Jensen, a new investor and Alpine Bank.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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