Gym owner hits back

Allan Hopkins, who owned the Curves gym in Toalla Street, Pambula, with his wife, Jane Hopkins, has hit back at comments made by the NSW Country Women’s Association (CWA) president, Elaine Armstrong in the News Weekly, September 12, maintaining the gym owners have done nothing wrong and have been caught in the middle of a dispute between the builder, Laurie Kellalea, of Tura Beach and the NSW CWA.

The NSW CWA, sent an eviction notice from its Sydney head office, stating that Curves had to be out by September 11. Mr and Mrs Hopkins moved the gym equipment out of the premises next to the Pambula Merimbula CWA rooms on Saturday, September 8, leaving behind many disappointed and upset gym members. 

Curves is a women-only gym which was popular locally because of its support of women going through illness, preparing for operations or recovering from surgery or injuries. 

At the heart of the matter, is the question of who owns the building and who is entitled to collect rent.

Mr Kellalea built the CWA rooms and adjoining offices on land owned by the CWA.

It has been suggested to the News Weekly that there was a plan to strata the premises and provide the CWA with its own rooms on its own land and Mr Kellalea with the adjoining building which would be on CWA-owned land.

Neither the CWA or Mr Kellalea will comment on the matter. However it seems as though the business relationship which appeared quite cordial when the CWA rooms were officially opened in December 2010, has soured.

The NSW CWA claims that Curves occupied the premises without its knowledge and hasn’t paid the organisation any rent but the News Weekly has seen documents which prove that the CWA was aware of the Curves’ plans as far back as April 2011. On Monday, September 10, Mr Kellalea denied he had a lease with the Hopkins and denied they had paid him rent. “The lease was with the CWA,” Mr Kellalea said but News Weekly has seen a signed commercial lease between Mr Kellalea and Mr and Mrs Hopkins.

Mr Hopkins saw the rental advertisement in the window of the premises early in 2011 and called the phone number on the billboard. He said: “I rang the mobile and met Laurie.  

“He had the keys and showed me around. We did a deal there and then.” He said it didn’t occur to him to check whether Mr Kellalea owned the building given it was his mobile on the billboard and he had the keys to the premises. 

In April 2011, Mr Kellalea applied to Bega Valley Shire Council for a DA to allow the offices to be used as a gym. Application number 2011 0189 was signed by both Laurie Kellalea, as the applicant for Jane and Allan Hopkins and also by Donna Wilkins, executive officer of the NSW CWA. The DA was approved a couple of months later, Mr Hopkins said and Curves opened around July 2012.

“We were given two months rent free by the builder before we started our commercial lease which ran from September 12, 2011 to September 1, 2012,” Mr Hopkins said.

“We paid rent the entire time,” Mr Hopkins said. But in July this year, the NSW CWA sent Mr Hopkins a lease. He said he had a meeting with local CWA representatives and Mr Kellalea and was told not to sign it and that it would be sorted out.

“That was the end of it I thought,” he said.

Mr Hopkins then received a letter from the NSW CWA in August asking him to sign the lease but he wrote back to say he already had a lease. The next communication he said was the eviction notice at the end of August.

The NSW CWA has offered Mr Hopkins the chance to sign a lease agreement but Mr Hopkins said: “They want us to pay $35,000 in rent for last year but we’ve had a lease for that time and we’ve paid rent.”

He said: “We’ve done everything, we’ve paid the rent, we had insurance, we employed local people and did everything possible to help our clients. We are not the bad ones here; we were just in there innocently running the business.

“Three people have lost their jobs, a good business has gone and there’s no rent coming in for the building,” Mr Hopkins added.

Mr Hopkins said that he had been keeping Curves informed of the situation and the company which operates the franchise business, had given him some time to find alternative offices.   

The News Weekly put Mr Hopkins letter (see Letters page 7) to the president of the NSW CWA, Elaine Armstrong who said: “The CWA stands by the comments it made last week about the Curves gym and again we offer the Curves management the opportunity to sign a lease so that it can continue operating.”

Mr Hopkins said that the NSW CWA wants him to pay last year’s rent, something he has already paid, before he can sign the lease.

Mr Hopkins is seeking legal advice.

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