New gym could signal an economic rebirth for Pawcatuck's vacant mills

Heather Roberts of Westerly, a member at CrossFit Stonington, located at 100 Mechanic St. in Pawcatuck, trains there Thursday.
Heather Roberts of Westerly, a member at CrossFit Stonington, located at 100 Mechanic St. in Pawcatuck, trains there Thursday.

Stonington - Located in 5,000 square feet of the former Harris Graphics mill complex in Pawcatuck is a new business that town economic development officials hope is a precursor of things to come.

Four weeks ago, CrossFit Stonington, which offers an intense workout experience, began operating in renovated space at 100 Mechanic St. that had been vacant for five years.

The gym's owner, chiropractor Al Furtado of Pawcatuck, was successful last fall in convincing the Planning and Zoning Commission to allow health clubs in the town's manufacturing zones.

The Economic Development Commission supported his application and has since been working to expand the permitted list of uses in the manufacturing (M-1) zones in an effort to spur the reuse of vacant buildings and land, especially in the mills along Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck.

Uses could include shops, offices, medical clinics, restaurants, indoor boat storage facilities, family entertainment centers, processing of agricultural products, research and development and personal service businesses. Having them as permitted uses would also mean that potential business would not have to go through the lengthy and cumbersome special use permit process. The Planning and Zoning Commission would have to approve additional permitted uses.

Furtado said he got interested in the rapidly growing crossfit phenomenon three years ago. He began going to a crossfit gym in Branford and immediately began seeing results. Although he saw himself before that as "a fit guy" he said the crossfit workouts were extremely challenging and his body began to change.

"I just fell in love with it," he said.

He outfitted his garage with equipment and began training his neighbors. He and his wife then began to think about opening their own facility.

Furtado said everyone he introduces to the crossfit workouts enjoys them, especially since they take place in an encouraging environment in which the challenging workouts can be tailored to the fitness level of each participant.

"The workouts are always different," he said. "It all comes down to results."

It all takes place in massive room with a 34-foot high ceiling with exposed pipes, steel beams and hanging lights. The gritty industrial feel meshes with the grueling nature of the workouts. There are also concrete block walls, huge windows of translucent glass and even the gantry track that once hauled printing press equipment. Furtado installed bathrooms with showers, an office and reception area.

Workouts last an hour and include exercises that build strength, speed and endurance. Participants are often exhausted when they finish.

"Word about this is spreading. Our best advertising is word of mouth," he said.

He now plans to seek another special permit so he can expand his chiropractic businesses into the space with treatment rooms and a separate reception area.


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