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Zoning Change Clears Way for Gymnastics Academy in Patton Township

A new gymnastics and acrobatic arts studio can move forward in Patton Township following unanimous approval of a zoning amendment by the township Board of Supervisors on May 26.

Phoenix Academy of Performing Arts of Pennsylvania is leasing the property at 118 Hawbaker Industrial Drive, which has been vacant since WESCO Lighting left in 2019. As the academy’s leaders began planning renovations to the building, located just off North Atherton Street, they discovered that the property’s industrial zoning did not include fitness centers as a permitted use.

David Gaines, the academy’s attorney, said at a board meeting in March that they found a fitness center and gymnastics business previously had been located nearby within the industrial zoning district.

Phoenix Academy is led by investors and instructors from the former Nittany Gymnastics, which closed last year when its owner retired and sold the College Township building. Most of Phoenix Academy’s current students previously attended Nittany Gymnastics, academy representative Evan Myers said.

“The main coaches [from Nittany Gymnastics] are continuing the business and building on that, adding some additional things such as circus arts and dance,” Myers said. “This was an ideal place to move it to from a standpoint of size, from a standpoint of access, because it’s easy in and off right off [Interstate 99]. From a standpoint of safety, it’s off the main highway.”

Myers and several parents of academy students said the facility would fill a void in gymnastics offerings and also bring an economic benefit to the area.

“As a parent who drops my child off for practice and is up in State College for that time I will be going to those stores located around there,” Sara Dunkel said. “I don’t get to that area too often but I know being that I’d be there several times a week I would be heading to those stores that are there and patronizing them as well, which I’m sure a lot of parents do: get their grocery shopping in while their kids are at practice.”

Gymnastics coach Finda Reichert said Nittany Gymnastics brought in students from all corners of Centre County and as far away as Montoursville.

“When Nittany closed, a lot of us lost our home and I think a lot of businesses are seeing that [because of COVID-19],” Reichert said. “This is like the Phoneix rising up from the ashes. We’re coming back strong. We’re giving the girls a home base again. And that’s going to help all the businesses around it.”

Added Myers, “It’s a win for the community because it allows the expansion of the types of things that Nittany Gymnastics used to do, not just gymnastics but a few additional things. It’s just a very good, beneficial thing for the community.”

After a planning commission recommendation in April and public hearing last week, supervisors voted 5-0 to amend the industrial zoning to include fitness centers.

“I think it’s a great idea and we should go ahead with it,” Supervisor Elliot Abrams said.

Gaines said in March that only minor structural alterations are needed to convert the building to a gymnastics facility. Myers said at the time that the hope is to have the academy open in the fall.