D.C. developer David von Storch is pumped to take fitness centers to a new level

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Navy suits and crisp oxfords occupy every seat except his. With the jacket fringed in fur, the red high-top Nikes with electric blue laces, the polo shirt whose slim-fit sleeves permit the right amount of biceps bulge, David von Storch is a very Logan Circle presence in this very Georgetown meeting room.

His master plan rests on a table. It's a $15 million blueprint to combine his absurdly successful businesses (fitness, restaurant, spa, salon) into one four-story temple of self-fulfillment at 1612 U St. NW. He wants to slap an addition onto the building, tear up the roof, put in a pool and upscale eatery, retrofit the inside for his fitness center and then open five days after the lease of his tenant-rival, Results, the Gym, expires next March.

Groundbreaking is August. The room seems unsteadied by von Storch's ambition.

"If I'm being a realist," mutters a suit, "it's gonna be a push." Others chirp about permits and specifications.

"Always listen to the client first," von Storch says curtly. "I spent over $100,000 getting this approved. I'm done."

He's 52 but, with his energy and boyish blond haircut, he might pass for 35. He knows what he wants, from the construction deadline to the double-paned windows with fake muntins. He does everything with a sense of urgency, he says, because a business that doesn't evolve is as good as dead. By next summer he wants 1612 U St. NW to be the palace of his empire. There, he wants to feed you, tone your body, trim your bangs, get you tipsy and coax you into savasana until your vainglorious, workaholic body feels that life is healthy, productive, groomed, deliberate, ordered.

Like his life is. Like it once was not.

* * *

Gyms in Washington used to be just that: gymnasiums. Musty, ratty, gloomy rooms of iron, always underground. In the early '90s there was a subterranean Bally's on L Street NW and a windowless workout room at the YMCA. In 1995, after becoming majority owner of the Capitol City Brewing Company franchise, von Storch signed a lease-to-own agreement for a hulking restaurant supply building at 1612 U St. NW, the gateway to the dodgy, undeveloped U Street corridor. There, on the cusp of present and future D.C., he would create a new kind of gym that would anticipate an evolution of expectations.

Fifteen years later: Expectations are being met. U Street is $18 glasses of wine and gleaming condos with doormen. The belly of Northwest buzzes with the promise and practice of balanced life -- at lifestyle fitness centers, the body politic worships a collective notion of wellness. First it was "Which Washington Sports Club do you go to?" and then "Which Results?" and now "You should try Vida. It's amazing."

These are the Vidavangelists, as some call them. For $92 a month, their world becomes marble sinks and tiled shower stalls and "group power" classes and leather settees and soaps labeled "PURE" and "SOOTHE." By 6:30 a.m. every weekday, the early birds of Washington are perched on every one of the 65 cardio machines at the Vida Fitness at 15th and P.

Next spring von Storch will open Vida's fourth location in five years in the renovated 1612 U, with a fifth planned for the Navy Yard in 2013. He oversees two Aura Spas, three Bang Salons (which cut 2,150 heads of hair a week), three Cap City restaurants (which serve 19,000 meals a week to businessmen and tourists) and plans to open two higher-end dining destinations in the next year (at 1612 U and 901 Ninth St. NW), all under the corporate heading of Urban Adventures.

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