The owner of a Sandy Springs gymnastics program at Hammond Park Gym says she’s fighting for her business to survive after falling behind on rent paid to the city and the cancellation of a lease to rent a city building for youth classes.
Sandy Springs has terminated its rental agreement with Gina White’s Phoenix Gymnastics due to continuous late payment balances, city officials said. The city lowered rent payments for the gym space by more than half the regular fee of $7,500 for six months in 2022, but White has yet to catch up.
Phoenix Gymnastics serves 300 children from ages eight-months to 18-years-old at Hammond Park. Many, in both the recreational and competitive gymnastics programs, are from underserved families, White said. Her open recreational gymnastics program is scheduled to end Feb. 12. The competitive team of 38 members can continue to use the gym for practice until mid-April. (White will be required to pay the city $50 per hour for use of the space.)
A Go Fund Me campaign to help Phoenix Gymnastics programs continue long term has raised nearly $10,000 in pledged donations. But Assistant City Manager Kristin Byars Smith said the city is planning to issue a request for proposals in March for other gymnastic vendors to potentially take over the facility.
White, 34, has run gymnastics at Hammond Park Gym since 2019. She says that while she has struggled to pay the $7,500 per month in rent payments, she has also been burdened with upkeep of the older facility including a leaky roof and squirrels running inside leaving droppings.
Sandy Springs officials say White paid an overdue balance of $22,500 in early December, but still owes one month’s rent at the gym.
“I fell behind on payments last fall and struggled with paying back loans from the pandemic,” White said. “And I have had to make sure the gymnastics program prices are affordable.”
During a City Council meeting Tuesday, parents, gymnastics coaches and members of the community voiced support for White during public comment and asked city officials to allow the recreational program to continue in the Hammond Park space.
Resident Mike Powell said his daughter, Lindsay, is a North Springs High School senior and a Phoenix Gymnastics coach. Powell said his daughter told him that White’s work is transcending gymnastics in the lives of the children enrolled in the recreational program — helping them with social anxieties, speech issues and emotional setbacks from the pandemic.
“Helping these kids is tremendous,” Powell said. “To start a business before the pandemic, to maintain the business; the strength, the courage, the determination; I’m proud that my daughter is learning from Gina.”
Other residents called on city officials to act on its commitment to diversity, and find a mutually workable solution for Phoenix Gymnastics to remain at Hammond Park.
Shante Dingle, who is Black, said she moved into Sandy Springs 22 years ago when there was much less diversity in the population. She said White’s gymnastics program is a part of that change.
“If I’m going to live in this community, pay my taxes in this community and work in this community then I want my kids to be able to have (these kind of) activities in this community,” Dingle said before the meeting. “And the fact that (White) looks like my daughter; she’s young, she’s willing to put the work in, that is important to me.”
Hammond Park Gym was built in 1978 and has undergone more than $880,000 in renovations and repairs, according to Sandy Springs. Yet officials remain concerned about its condition. A master plan will be created for the site in the next five years that could recommend demolition of the structure, Byars Smith said.
Following public comment Tuesday, Councilman Andy Bauman questioned the fairness of the cost of renting out the gym to White or a future gymnastics program vendor given issues with the building.
“... I am concerned about the condition of the property,” Bauman said. “It is our obligation to make sure it’s in good shape. Do we have an obsolete property? Is it even serviceable?”
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