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CrossFit Considers Departure from Covington Following Neighbors' Complaints

"We've been battling this ever since we got here," said Emily Wagner of CrossFit Covington, the fitness center located in the city's Old Seminary Square neighborhood.

The trouble for this location of the popular trend in working out is parking.

Things got hairy when CrossFit hosted a competition last Saturday and attracted nearly five hundred athletes, judges, and spectators and overwhelmed the neighborhood's parking options. A blast of winter weather also limited the parking options available.

Wagner said that since the facility relocated from its previous Russell Street location where bioLOGIC recently expanded, to its new home three blocks south, CrossFit has tried to be a good neighbor. It hosts three large competitions each year and after having some issues with its first at the new location, Wagner and her team worked to resolve any possible future problems.

She said that the company did everything it could to address parking concerns. New members get email instructions about where they can and should park. They are instructed not to park in front of neighbors' houses on the public street, they are pointed to designated lots and on-street parking when no lot spaces are available. There are parking messages on the gym's white board and on the check-in screen. "It's the first thing you see when you walk in the door," Wagner said.

The aggressive parking messages seemed to be working. "With our last two competitions in August and November, we literally had zero parking issues," Wagner said. "We went and got an event permit, had streets blocked off so no spectators could park there, and our vendors were only allowed to park in the front. Attendants worked there all day long."

"They went off without a hitch and everything was great. Neighbors even complimented us. There were no issues and everything went as planned."

But then on Saturday, the temperature was in the teens and there were a few inches of snow on the ground. "So our parking plan didn't work out quite as well as previous events," Wagner said. CrossFit still followed all its procedures of putting notices of the event on neighbors' doors on Ninth & Tenth Streets and on Russell Street between those two blocks. Email notices were sent out to all the athletes, judges, and vendors. The parking plan was explained on its website and Facebook page. Roads were blocked off.

"The problem was, we did not have parking attendants outside the entire day, only in the morning because it was so cold, we just didn't feel right having them out there the whole day," Wagner said.

And then attendees started parking in front of houses and some of the neighbors were not happy.

"We've had neighbors literally come in and yell at us in front of our clients about parking. Completely inappropriate," Wagner said. She said that on the day of the competition some neighbors showed up threatening to call police, claiming that attendees were parked illegally.

This week, a neighbor showed up with a petition that he said he plans to submit to City Hall to have CrossFit kicked out of the neighborhood.

"I told him we did everything we could to alleviate parking issues that day and the weather didn't cooperate," Wagner said. "He started screaming at me that we had no parking attendants."

The man, Emily said, asked her if she would rather have him out in the cold walking to his house than having a parking attendant out in the cold. "I said, you for five minutes walking for the good of the city, yes, that's not unreasonable to ask," Wagner said.

As for the good of the city, Wagner points to the economic impact CrossFit has had on Covington.

"I say to residents, do you mind walking an extra five minutes to your house in order  to bring in tens of thousands of dollars in revenue to the City?," Wagner said. "I feel that anyone would say yes to that."

But when the petition showed up, Wagner decided it was time to pursue other options, and possibly another location for CrossFit, a business that struggled to get off on the right foot with neighbors. It was a few months after it opened that Wagner and her team learned that her facility was not zoned correctly for the type of business CrossFit is. That was later resolved, but not until after some neighbors showed up at the zoning hearing in opposition.

Wagner said she feels unwelcome.

The City of Covington is trying to help CrossFit find a new location within the city.

"It would be a great loss to the community if they have to leave the city," said Naashom Marx, business development manager for the City. "Our team has worked hard to try to mitigate the neighborhood issues. It is sad that the neighbors do not see the benefit to having such a facility near them. However, we are hopeful that we can help CrossFit Covington continue to grow in Covington.

Wagner said some of the locations pitched to her by the City are in Latonia or along 3L Highway. 

"That's just not where our clients are," Wagner said. "They sent us a few options as far as Downtown Covington is concerned but the next obvious choice would be Newport."

"We're not leaving Covington to spite anyone. If there's parking that works, we'll take advantage of it. We need to do what's best for us and what's best for our clients."

Marx said that she will continue the effort to keep CrossFit in Covington. "Not only is CrossFit Covington a good business in the city, they support many businesses in the area," Marx said. "It is common to see a group of athletes out to dinner after a good workout. They are ambassadors for Covington."

"We may not have a professional sports team in Covington but through events like the ones CrossFit Covington has held, the Devou Cyclocross race, and others, we are able to see a growth in the economy through hospitality, retail, and restaurant sales. I fully support having healthy events that attract hundreds of people and thank CrossFit Covington for making the effort to organize these events. I know they are not an easy undertaking."

"I am very upset about the issues CrossFit has endured," Marx said. "They are a wonderful business that advocates for healthy lifestyles."

"We've started looking at other buildings," Wagner said. "It's not that we don't want to stay in Covington and the City is doing everything it can to keep us here and find a better location. They have been absolutely tremendously supportive."

"Where we stand, we've had so many issues and such negative feedback and feel so unwelcome in this neighborhood that we almost don't want to stay here. It's just been a pretty negative experience from day one."

Story by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: CrossFit via Facebook