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October 9th, 2013 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

Unnecessary Roughness

Members take a hit at a former NFL star’s troubled athletic clubs.

news2_wwstaff_3949ON THE CLOCK: Ex-NFL star Sam Adams faces pressure to fix the RiverPlace (pictured here) and Duniway athletic clubs. - IMAGE: WW Staff
     
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For 14 seasons in the National Football League, Sam Adams ran roughshod over opposing blockers. The onetime Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle went to the Pro Bowl three times, thanks to his skill hunting down quarterbacks.

But as a businessman running two prominent Portland athletic clubs, it’s Adams who is getting sacked.

For the past year, Adams, 40, ran the Duniway Park Athletic Club on Southwest Barbur Boulevard and, last fall, assumed control of RiverPlace Athletic Club on the South Waterfront. As The Oregonian reported in August, owners of the Duniway Park building (formerly the YMCA) began eviction proceedings against Adams’ company for failing to pay rent. Adams directed members to RiverPlace, a higher-priced club two miles away.

But public records and court documents show Adams faces much bigger financial problems affecting thousands of club members.

Adams’ company, even after recently paying $137,500 in back rent, remains in a legal dispute with his landlord at Duniway over property taxes, insurance and unpaid contractors. He’s also been embroiled in numerous disputes at Riverplace, alienating employees and members. 

“You can’t treat members the way he has treated them,” says Dennis Sivers, Adams’ landlord at RiverPlace. “We are in a mode of trying to figure out how to deal with Mr. Adams without making things worse for members.” 

Adams tells WW the problems at both clubs are the legacy of neglect and deferred maintenance—and are not his fault.

“Duniway was a dump when I took it over,” Adams says. “You needed a tetanus shot to go in the locker room.”

RiverPlace was also poorly maintained, he says. “What they’ve done for years is put Band-Aids on bigger problems.”

But records show Adams isn’t feuding with just his landlords. In the past year, several vendors and contractors, including a telephone company, a landscaper, an electrical company and the RiverPlace condo association, have filed legal actions against Adams or his companies.

On Sept. 27, court records show, the owner of the RiverPlace Apartments won a $127,000 judgment against Adams for unpaid parking charges.

In the Duniway eviction court file, invoices from American Heating Inc. show Adams $40,000 past due for work the company performed. The file also includes an email from the architect Adams hired.

“Due to the check from Oregon Athletic Club [Adams] not clearing my bank,” wrote architect David Vonada on Sept. 10, “I will be unable to proceed with the completion of construction documents as scheduled.”

Adams runs six clubs in all, including four in the Portland area and two in Washington. Last month, the Seattle Athletic Club sued him for trademark infringement in federal court after he changed the name of Seattle’s Allstar Fitness to West Seattle Athletic Club. The Internal Revenue Service also filed a $34,000 tax lien against one of his companies last year. 

Adams says the tax lien is left over from a poor investment he made, and despite all the litigation, he insists he’s thriving. “There’s nothing wrong with my business,” Adams says. 

Membership at RiverPlace has actually grown under his management, he adds. 

“Sam has been fixing things,” Adams says. “They are not going to put all these problems on Sam.”

When Adams directed Duniway members to the more-expensive RiverPlace after Duniway closed, the refugees arrived to find sweltering conditions because the air conditioning didn’t work. Members also grew cranky about the loss of free parking after Adams refused to pay the operator of the RiverPlace parking garage.

Nikolas Ackerman of Southwest Portland says he’s throwing in the towel after belonging to RiverPlace for seven years. “I really didn’t want to leave,” he says. “I’d gladly come back under a different owner.”

The struggle of Adams’ clubs mystifies Sivers, whose company also owns two suburban athletic clubs. As baby boomers age and the economy rebounds, he says, many health clubs are thriving.

“It’s counterintuitive,” Sivers says of Adams’ problems at Duniway and RiverPlace. “There’s no reason these problems should be happening.”   

 
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