Don Carter, the owner of Skywalkers Trampoline and Tumbling Academy, says the city should reimburse his business $2,000 in rent because the city did not fulfill its promise to properly heat his gym. The insufficient heating drove away business, said Carter, who leases a city building at 828 N. Roosevelt St. in Marion.
At last week’s city council meeting, officials decided to postpone a decision on whether to grant a $2,000 rent credit to Carter. Cold weather in late 2013 forced Carter to close the gym because it was too cold to use, and Carter wants the $2,000 credit to make up for charging half-price to clients to make up for canceled sessions.
At the time, between 80 and 90 kids used the gymnastics facility, bringing in a gross income of about $4,000 a month, Carter said. Since then, enrollment has fallen, and Carter blames the lack of heat, saying parents were huddled up against the electric wall heaters in an effort to stay warm while watching their kids practice.
“We literally had kids cry because they were cold,” said Carter, who could not say what the current enrollment is. “Two-thousand dollars is actually the minimum amount it hurt our business. Any time you have a disruption in regularity in your classes, and you have to call and say you aren’t going to have it, people plan their lives around the activity and you are going to lose customers.”
The city agreed to provide proper heat when the lease was signed in August of 2013, and Carter said the wall heaters the city installed last winter were “not sufficient.” They not only wouldn’t heat up the gym, but they also increased his electric bill more than a thousand dollars a month.
Still, Carter said he is extremely thankful that city officials have always been responsive to his needs, including building a temporary wall inside the building to help trap heat for the gym. The city solved the heating issues a couple months ago when it installed a natural gas heating system, Carter said.
Parents of kids who train at Skywalkers remember the cold snap last winter — and say the building is still quite cold.
“I would sit next to the heater with blankets on,” said Ciara Cox, who has two daughters who train at the Marion gymnastics facility.
“It’s still cold (inside),” Cox said. “I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping blankets in the car.”
Cox said she is very happy with the quality of gymnastics instruction at Skywalkers that her daughters are receiving, especially her 9-year-old.
“She has just progressed really quickly. That’s why we’ve stuck around,” Cox said.
When the issue came up at the city council meeting last week, Carter was $3,000 behind in rent, but he has since cut a check for $1,000, and he hopes the city will grant him the $2,000 credit, which would make his account current. Carter said he lost track of rent payments because he had pre-paid nearly a full year of rent and did not realize the checks had run out.
The city has been paying the $250 monthly gas bill since the gas heater was installed a couple months ago. However, Carter said he just paid a $476 electric bill, which means the total cost of utilities is nearly the cost of monthly rent: $740.
After recently selling facilities in Wichita, Garden City and Topeka, Carter now has gymnastics facilities in Hillsboro, Emporia, Eureka and Marion. Carter said that in all his other facilities, the utility bill never exceeded more than 40 percent of his rent.
Still, Carter is pleased with his working relationship with the city.
“From the beginning, I felt nothing but support from the city, and I still feel support,” Carter said.
Carter, who originally rented a building on Main Street in 2013 but had to vacate when the building was sold, said that despite the declining enrollment he is committed to Marion.
“When I came here, I was shocked at the talent there is,” Carter said, adding that the price of $45 per month per student cannot go higher because of economic realities in the Marion area.
“I took a huge risk. I signed a three-year lease for this place,” Carter said.
This place may be the problem. Marion’s director of economic development Terry Jones said the building might require a lot of energy.
“The city needs to sell the building and wash its hands of it,” Jones said. “We are going to get it figured out. We are going to work with (Carter). We need to get (Skywalkers) on Main Street, but that’s easier said than done.”