WHITEHALL -- When Greg Gross bought the former Whitehall Armory nearly two years ago, he knew its history and saw its potential.
As he enters his third year of ownership of the Whitehall Athletic Club, an iconic building hard by Route 4, he is tapping into that history as he continues to explore ways to turn the century-old building into a center for sports and entertainment.
“I knew there was a gun range in the basement, but it had been decommissioned, and it was nothing but cut stone. Everything had been taken out,” said Gross, an Orange County resident who runs a wholesale insurance business in New Jersey.
The range was not one of the priorities as Gross set about renovating the building into a stylish athletic club, which he pairs with the Whitehall Field Club, a 67-acre facility 2 miles away that includes a six-hole golf course. Gross, who owns a farm in Hubbardton, Vt., and a ski lodge near Killington, Vt., faces a challenge in bringing a high-end sporting facility to a small, often-struggling, town in northern Washington County.
Still, he is constantly looking for new ways to expand his enterprises in Whitehall, hoping to host more sporting events, offering corporate memberships and changing the way he is marketing the facility.
Enter the gun range.
After months of work, the three-station range has bulletproof glass around the shooting stations and a mechanical system that can pull the paper targets in 5-yard increments, all the way to the sand bunker at the 25-yard mark.
“You’re not going to find anything like this in this area,” said Dan Herrmann, a Whitehall resident who is an ammunition specialist in the Army and one of two range masters at the club. ”You see a lot of ranges like this in other parts of the country, but not up here.”
Local rod and gun clubs have indoor ranges, but the club’s is a professional range that can be used for pistols and rifles and may turn into another way for Gross to expand his membership base. The ceiling is steel plating, a steel backstop and two exhaust fans.
The club started slowly the first year, partly because renovations took longer than expected.
In its second year, it grew, especially after Gross doubled the equipment in the building and started offering fitness room-specific memberships.
“We’ve got 100 fitness members, and about 80 percent have joined since January,” Gross said.
Town Supervisor George Armstrong admits he had his doubts when Gross announced his plans for an athletic club in the iconic building, but he’s become a believer.
“I drove by one weekend evening, and there had to be 150 cars in that lot,” Armstrong said last week. “He’s obviously a good businessman. It’s good for the town.”
Marge Mohn, a member of the Village Board, agreed.
“We’re lucky to have him,” Mohn said. “It’s good for the town and the village. It’s drawing people.”
Gross said he is “satisfied” with the growth of the club in 2013, but is going to continue to try different options, including a new shooting sports membership, which will include access to the range at the club, as well as a new 10-acre skeet- and trap-shooting range at the Field Club, which also includes a six-hole links-style golf course, a 4-acre pond and facilities for a variety of other outdoor activities. Gross initially bought the land to grow hay for his farm in Hubbardton, Vt.
“We’ve got a National Skeet Shooting Association range set up with a high- and low-range trap house,” Gross said. “We didn’t get it finished until the end of the year, but we expect it will be a big draw.”
While Gross hopes the range will attract new members, the public is invited to use it as well. Gross said those who are interested should contact the club for more information.
“We know there are a lot of sportsmen around here,” he said. “And people are more conscious about self-defense. We thought a lot of women would be interested in learning to shoot.”
Spectator sports, too
In the last 12 months, the club has put on seven professional wrestling events, including one in November that featured Bret “Hitman” Hart. There have also been three professional boxing cards, two amateur boxing events and three mixed martial arts events, including one that drew a large crowd in late November.
“We’re really hoping the state allows professional MMA this year,” Gross said. “We’re positioning ourselves to be ready when that happens. There are a tremendous number of MMA fans in the area.”
Another income source Gross is aiming at is sponsorship of events, such as the MMA and boxing matches.
“Right now, the ring has no ads on it. Hopefully, by next year it will be loaded with sponsors,” said Gross, who already has some sponsorship banners up in the drill hall and envisions event sponsors also getting ringside seats, food and other amenities.
Gross said the club has also done 15 catered events at the club, including weddings. The club has a public event planned for Super Bowl Sunday.
“We are very flexible and willing to work with people,” Gross said.
On yet another front, Gross is hoping to bring in musical acts.
“I believe we can create a music destination at the site,” he said, again pointing to the club’s location on a major route from Vermont to New York.
For further information on the Whitehall Athletic Club, call 499-0134 or go to www.whitehallathleticclub.com.