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Q: Any word on what’s happening with the Esporta building on Golden Gate and 68th? — Laura Lynn, Golden Gate 

A: It looks as if a 20-year string of fitness clubs has come to an end at 6800 Golden Gate Parkway. A private Christian school has been proposed for that location between Livingston Road and Interstate 75. 

Until it permanently closed this summer, Esporta Fitness had operated in the 30,000-square-foot building for more than three years. It was LA Fitness from about 2013 until early 2020 when the gym chain rebranded this location and some of its other locations nationwide to launch the downmarket Esporta. That local address also was Lifestyle Family Fitness from about 2008 to 2013, and previously was Athletic Club Naples or ACN. 

“The subject property was originally developed as a shopping center in 1975, prior to adoption of the Golden Gate Area Master Plan. The Collier County Board of Zoning Appeals authorized a non-conforming use change to permit a bowling alley in 1990; an indoor putting course (18 holes) and accessory pro shop, dining facility and future outdoor pitch and putt area in 1996; a school in 1997; and then the current fitness center in 2002,” according to a narrative statement filed with the county’s Growth Management Department this summer regarding a proposed change in use from a fitness center to a private school in the “E” Estates Zoning District. 

Classrooms and offices for Naples Christian Academy have been proposed for the existing building. A public hearing for the non-conforming use change will be Nov. 9 with the Collier County hearing examiner for the more than 5-acre property on the southwest corner of Golden Gate Parkway and 68th Street SW. The applicant is proposing to replace the fitness center with a private school for a maximum of 225 students. “The proposed school would occupy the existing building space with only the need to make minor interior renovations to the building,” according to the application. 

The approval of the non-conforming use change is subject to numerous conditions, county documents show. For instance, the K-8 private school would be limited to a maximum of 225 students—which allows nearly a 40% increase from the school’s current enrollment—and the main building’s square footage cannot exceed the existing 28,000 square feet. Detached accessory structures would be limited to a maximum of 2,000 square feet. 

Also, school hours would be limited to 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with occasional school functions permitted after hours. No outdoor amplified sound will be permitted unless as part of a temporary use permit for a special event. For events of significant traffic generation, the school would have to provide traffic control by law enforcement or an approved service provider. 

The building was built in 1975 and an outdoor swimming pool and basketball court were added in 2005. The property last sold in March 2016 when it was purchased for $7,982,500 by Fast Forward Fitness LLC, county records show. The company is registered to Naples-based H & H Property Management & Co., managed by North Naples residents Brian and Gordon Henke, state records show. 

Naples Christian Academy, founded in 1973, has a partnership with Covenant Church of Naples, where it temporarily shares space on the church’s campus at 6926 Trail Blvd. The school previously leased space on Santa Barbara Boulevard, just south of the Golden Gate Parkway intersection. 

Covenant Church launched a faith-based capital campaign Sept. 10 to pledge funds for the purchase of a new home that the church will lease long-term to the school. Church leaders believe the opportunity flows from the heart of its mission as a church, which considers plans for the new school campus as an investment that will have a generational impact, senior pastor Trent Casto said in a promotional video. 

“This spring, after much prayer and deliberation, our elders determined that Covenant Church should be involved in Christian education,” Casto said. “With the help of two consultants, we decided that the best approach was to not start our own school from scratch but to partner with an existing Christian school. As we surveyed the landscape, only one Christian school made sense: the same one that began on Covenant’s campus 51 years ago, that shares our unwavering commitment to God’s word and has remained a resource for the Naples community ever since—Naples Christian Academy.” 

This began a search by the Covenant-NCA partnership for a long-term home for the school, Casto said.  

“We believe God has led us to that home,” he said. “In early August, our elders voted to move forward with the purchase of a 13-acre property that will provide a lasting home for NCA for generations to come.”  

In addition to the former fitness center’s 5 acres, Casto is referring to undeveloped parcels immediately to the west and south of the developed property on Golden Gate Parkway that also are owned by Fast Forward Fitness LLC. If these adjoining properties totaling nearly 8 acres are purchased for future use, the church estimates the total purchase price at $12.6 million and another $5 million to retrofit the building for a school with more than 15 classrooms, according to its property overview and floor plan. 

Naples Christian Academy has made financial inroads since it almost permanently closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, NCA was facing insolvency because of a decline in enrollment and the loss of a campus. Since then, it has seen an operating surplus during the last two years and an enrollment growth from 81 students in 2021 to 166 students this year. 

Property across 68th Street from the former fitness centers is now the home of El Shaddai of Grace Church, a Christian congregation that had been worshipping temporarily in a building on the Covenant Church campus. The former bingo hall and skating rink at 6750 Golden Gate Parkway was converted into a church. El Shaddai purchased the 2.34 acres in January 2021 for more than $1.3 million, county property records show. 

The “Tim Aten Knows” weekly column answers local questions from readers. Email Tim at 

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