…and I took a risk.”
That’s how Omar Francisco Rico Granados summed up his decision to use his own money and sweat to fix up a building’s second-floor apartments in the hope that he would get permission to set up a gym and charge admission in the unused space downstairs.
His gamble paid off.
Rico, once of the Cuban national soccer team, now runs the Gimnasio Sol y Cuba in Old Havana, a few steps southwest of the Plaza Vieja.
The building, according to a plaque outside, was a Masonic lodge from 1809 to 1869.
The ground floor space was full of discarded junk, the upstairs had ten apartments. Rico, proud and talkative, says he invested 34,000 pesos to fix up the apartments, beginning in 2008 and finishing last March.
I didn’t go up to see the apartments, but from downstairs you see repaired floor joists and a new pvc sewer line that he installed. In his project file, there’s a letter signed by the ten families upstairs supporting his proposal to use the downstairs as a community gym.
The rest of his file shows the results of his bureaucratic odyssey. The local government liked his project at first, then turned against it. But he went also to the
He opened the gym last September. He’s got a sound system, home-made weightlifting equipment, wooden crates for step aerobics classes, and three instructors whom he pays. Kids and retirees enter free; 100 pesos a month gets you unlimited use of the gym, 60 pesos a month gets you in for a daily 90-minute slot.
Rico pays about 250 pesos per month in tax, and uses the rest to pay expenses and recoup his investment.
He wants more exercise equipment, and the big item on his to-do list is the carpentry, ironwork, and glass to fix the front façade according to his plan (see photo).
Rico doesn’t own the property outright, and he realizes that as the restoration of Old
That prospect doesn’t seem to bother him, and one imagines he would land on his feet even if that did come to pass.
[A story of another gym in Centro Habana is here.]