WOONSOCKET — After nearly a decade of working in the business world for three WNBA teams and as the president of an NBA Development League franchise, Michael Reynolds has returned home to take on the next challenge of his professional career.
Reynolds, a Lincoln native, and Jason St. Clair, a product of Reno, Nev., are the new co-owners of the Rhode Island Athletic Club (formerly WHR Fitness) on 600 Social St. They have been in business since the club reopened under its new name on Aug. 1, and they’ve been hard at work transforming their club into what they hope will be a royal jewel for local athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
“The talks to buy this place began back in May, and the papers weren’t signed until mid-July,” Reynolds said during a break in his hectic schedule on Friday afternoon. “It was a really quick transition, which is why we really haven’t got a lot done inside or outside.
“The current members we have now and the staff have really been great. They love the changes we’ve made, and we’re working everyday on something new, so they know we’re constantly trying to make this a better place.”
When it comes to turning over and improving a business, Reynolds, who is a 1999 graduate and a former baseball standout of Lincoln High, is no stranger to rolling up his sleeves for some good old fashioned hard work and enjoying success along the way.
Reynolds earned a bachelor’s degree in business management in 2003 at Johnson & Wales University, but prior to his senior year, he took a summer internship at Mohegan Sun, working in the sports and entertainment fields when the casino opened up its Mohegan Sun Arena.
When the summer came to a halt, Reynolds’ relationship with Mohegan Sun didn’t, and every couple of weeks, he toured Routes 6 and 395 to Uncasville to do some contract work for the Connecticut casino.
“Then that February of 2003, [Mohegan Sun] bought the Orlando Miracle (of the WNBA) and turned it into the Connecticut Sun,” said Reynolds. “They gave me a call and asked me if I wanted a job, and I accepted a job the day before the spring break of my senior year. It was perfect.”
Reynolds started as a sales representative for the Sun and soon became their group sales manager, and after a few seasons, he accepted a job with another WNBA team, the Houston Comets, as their director of ticket sales.
Unfortunately for Reynolds, the team folded in 2008, but he returned to the Northeast to work in ticket sales with another WNBA team, the New York Liberty, as well as Madison Square Garden’s two other residents, the NBA’s New York Knicks and NHL’s New York Rangers.
“I was only there for a little bit,” admitted Reynolds. “I actually decided to come home and start a couple of my own businesses, one of them being personal training, and I was here for about a year.”
“Then I got a text from one of the guys in the [NBA Development League] office asking me if I wanted to go to Reno to help with their franchise, the Bighorns. They had been there for two years and had two different owners, and they were hoping to land a third owner, so I went out there to help turn that around.”
The Bighorns, which were affiliated with the Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz, and Memphis Grizzlies, named Reynolds their vice president in September 2010, and 20 months later, promoted him to president.
“That was a great experience,” remarked Reynolds. “During the 2010-11 season, we had Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, and Steve Novak on our team, but they ended up going to the NBA during the season.”
While Reynolds enjoyed success with the Bighorns, he felt a pull to return home to Rhode Island.
“My wife, Nicole, and I are from Lincoln and we just had a baby girl,” said Reynolds. “She will be seven months old next week, and a big part of my decision was to get her back with our families. We didn’t have any family out there, it was just us.
“My brother is also actually a member here, and he was always trying to find ways for me to get back here,” Reynolds added with a smile. “He found out that there was the potential of someone taking over this business, and I have a huge entrepreneurial spirit and a huge sense of pride for this community, so I took a look into it.”
That’s when St. Clair, who at the time, worked in the insurance business and was a member of the same fitness club as Reynolds, entered the picture.
“We actually met out there in Reno, doing the Reno Tahoe Odyssey, a 178-mile relay race with 12 people on the team,” said Reynolds. “We did it with our fitness club which was a big sponsor of the Bighorns.
“(The club) asked me to captain the team, and I said, ‘Well, I’ll captain, but could you give me a co-captain?’ Then Jason became the co-captain and we became friends and we put together the team for the three years we were out there.
“We were actually getting ready to register for the Tahoe race this year and I brought up owning a gym. He said, ‘Oh, I would love to do that someday.’ We started talked, and somehow I convinced him and his family to come out east.”
Ever since Reynolds and St. Clair signed the papers to the club, they’ve been constantly on the go in improving and maintaining it, as well as setting their sights on adding classes, promoting their club, and increasing their membership.
Right now, their to-do list includes making some minor repairs to the club’s 30-year-old roof, extending the height on some of the doorways on the bottom floor of the club, repainting the walls in the pool area, and working on their web site (www.rhodeislandathleticclub.com ).
“It’s been non-stop, which is great,” said Reynolds. “Even in the WNBA, I worked 60, 70, 80-hour weeks. We want to still make improvements inside and outside the building and add a couple of new spaces for group exercise classes so we can add more classes starting Sept. 3.”
Walking through the spacious fitness center can be a bit overwhelming with the abundance of rooms. Among its amenities are three weight rooms, three racquetball courts, two cardio rooms, a nautilus room, a pool, an area with a sauna and Jacuzzi, a basketball court for half-court games, a small massage therapy room, and a room exclusively for indoor golf driving tees.
The schedule of events the club offering is also a large one – ranging from yoga, Pilates, spinning, and boot camp classes and continuing with its soon-to-be-forming 3-on-3 adult basketball leagues – and it’s expanding weekly.
Reynolds noted that on Tuesday, Aug 20, at 6:30 p.m., the RIAC will begin Zumba Fitness classes, and on Monday, Sept. 16, a six-week performance program that will meet three times a week for athletes ages 15 and over will commence.
“And we’re bringing back childcare,” remarked Reynolds. “That’s going to begin on Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day, and we’re going to have it in the mornings, late afternoons, and evenings.”
The one thing that hasn’t changed, noted Reynolds are the hours, which are 5 a.m.-9 p.m. from Monday through Thursday, 5 a.m.-8 p.m. on Fridays, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturdays, and 7 a.m.-1 p.m. on Sundays.
It’s been a non-stop labor of love for Reynolds and St. Clair, but you won’t find him complaining about “putting in long hours” at the office.
“I’m hoping to take all my past business experiences and use them to have a successful business here and be involved in the community and give back to it,” added Reynolds. “It’s great to be back home and it’s great to be part of the Rhode Island Athletic Club.”
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @Ericben24