Mid-City’s $100 Million Dollar Man
Ryan Donegan loves to play Squash.
The Brother Martin High School graduate became a 4 time All Ivy, All American and Ivy League Rookie of the Year at Dartmouth College. Donegan was also ranked internationally by the Professional Squash Association (PSA) as one of the Top 100 Squash Players in the world.
Squash is a tony pastime, attracting an enviable demographic of men and women with median incomes of more than $300,000 and an average net worth of $1,500,000, according to U.S. Squash, a national governing body and membership organization for the racquet sport. Squash players are also highly educated – 98% are college graduates and 57% of players go on to pursue further graduate degrees.
Not coming from the rarified gene pool, or economic stratum, of the above mentioned pecunious players, sports and fitness junkie Donegan, 32, said Squash was not a game that was easily accessible to play while growing up.
“It was a huge source of frustration,” he said, “but it was a motivation too. To now be able to make it available to the public in New Orleans is an exciting prospect. And we want to get as many people interested in the program mix as possible. My goal is to help reveal the sport, long known only to those behind the walls of private or exclusive clubs, to everybody.”
From Donegan’s passion for his favorite physical activity comes a colossus concept to build a $100 million dollar multi-purpose, mixed-use, world-class health and wellness facility right in the heart of Mid-City.
“There’s a need and a market opportunity,” the Tulane MBA graduate said. “We’re trying to do something out of the ordinary which leads to a competitive advantage. The leaders of New Orleans have a plan to make New Orleans a healthier place. We plan to provide a fitness facility with different programming and make working out social, fun and group oriented. It’s not just about running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. This is going to be something special.”
Better + Boulder, LLC, a local company run by Millennial visionaries including CFO Donegan, has 8.6 acres of land under contract. Located behind the Rouses Supermarket on N. Carrollton Avenue and Conti Street near Canal Boulevard, south of the old Public Belt and a few blocks from The American Can apartment building and City Park, there are 5 parcels of land Donegan said will become a cohesive, self-sustaining, active gathering center.
Better + Boulder, who will develop and manage the fitness center, has been cultivating the eclectic campus for the last 2 years. They’re currently in discussions with co-developers and development partners to buy and build up the other 4 areas in accordance to their Master Plan. Components for the 374,000 square foot village include more than 25,000 square feet of lead wall climbing and no-harness bouldering spaces. They’ll also be 8 international singles Squash courts and hardball doubles courts, additional strength and fitness, adventure and challenge facilities, a spa, health conscious restaurants and cafés, demonstration kitchens, academic arenas, active lifestyle boutiques, a theater, rooftop gardens, a hotel, residences, a business and startup incubation center and indoor and outdoor public, civic and corporate assembly areas.
Plus, the expanse will be wrapped in multiple, groundbreaking technology platforms programmed to monitor your health, challenge your fitness habits and enable you to explore the village and share experiences with friends and families within the space and worldwide in real time. With a designated wearable device you’ll be instantly interconnected to all happenings at the village by state-of-the-art data collection automation that will yield quantitative fitness scores charting your performance and promoting interaction with other members by data visualizations and presentations projected throughout the village. It will also act as a dashboard where you’ll be able to register for classes and instruction and be alerted to all activities available at the village and the community. The hope is to create enough member engagement to make exercise feel like a natural part of your daily routine.
“It’s a perfect fit,” Donegan said about the direction of the athletic programming. “We’re trying to make climbing, bouldering and squash public types of sports that fit into urban lifestyles. The nearest climbing facility is about 20 miles away in Slidell, and the nearest Squash courts are in Houston and Atlanta.”
The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) says Squash is a fast growing sport, and the U.S. has the fastest growing squash participation worldwide – showing 82% growth overall between 2007 and 2011 to more than 1.2 million squash players.
Even Forbes rated Squash as the #1 sport for getting and staying fit.
“We’ll capitalize on the New Orleans hospitality and tourist trade,” Donegan said. “We plan to hold national and international competitions in climbing and Squash right here in town.”
Donegan said their Mid-City multiplex will act as an athletic and social beacon to the more than 300,000 residents who live within a five-mile radius of the village and the 63,000 students who attend schools within a 10-mile radius.
Membership dues will average $89 a month.
Modeled after the now shuttered Athletic Club at the Illinois Center in downtown Chicago, and employing the New Urbanism principles of Seaside, FL, Donegan said Better + Boulder’s village will embrace the architectural heritage of the Mid-City neighborhood, while introducing new and innovative design and construction materials and methods that complement 21st century venues and settings.
“Amenities, venues and indoor and outdoor civic gathering spaces will be interwoven and layered within interlocking village structures, promoting healthy interaction with inhabitants and differentiating the village from traditional single use, stand-alone facilities,” he said. “These connections will create the vertical and horizontal ‘neighborhoods’ and ‘districts’ that will offer unparalleled fitness, health, work, play and living opportunities, while reducing dependency upon cars.”
Their proposed bike share program is something Donegan said will enable cycling enthusiasts to explore the city’s multiple bike paths conveniently converging right at their doorstep, at the central node at the Lafitte Greenway, located at the intersection of Jefferson Davis Parkway and Bayou St. John, which will soon allow cyclists to ride from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain.
The group also wants to maximize outdoor activities and opportunities in and around the Bayou St. John area.
Donegan said GNO, Inc. has been a “huge advocate” for the development, and so has Friends of Lafitte Corridor. Since the optioned land lies in 2 different districts, Better + Boulder has reached out to both District A Councilmember Susan G. Guidry and District B Councilmember LaToya Cantrell. Donegan said both offices have responded positively about the project proposal.
“I feel we’re ahead of our time,” he said. “What others see as risk, we see as a win, because our plans are so unconventional and different, but there’s strength in that. Our Master Plan is not typical New Orleans, but it fits the site area perfectly and contextually.”
Donegan hopes to make their village “bigger” than Mid-City, extending its outreach and influence. Another facet of the grand plan is to create and promote a non-profit organization.
“After we’re all long gone, we hope this foundation remains tied to the site forever to continue to fund programs and to help the community at large,” Donegan said.
Founder and CFO
Better + Boulder, LLC