Canyon Ranch to open in Bethesda

$1 billion residential community and hotel planned for Rock Spring Centre

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

After more than a year of rumors, the luxury health resort chain Canyon Ranch confirmed last week that it will open a residential community in North Bethesda.

The $1 billion project will include 434 luxury condominiums in two 20-story towers, a 157-room hotel and 87 luxury apartments as part of Rock Spring Centre, which is currently under development just off Interstate 270 on Old Georgetown Road. A 90,000-square-foot wellness center will anchor the complex, offering access to spa treatments, medical professionals, fitness classes and a gourmet restaurant almost exclusively to residents and guests.

‘‘For a quarter century, we’ve been a leader in the destination health resort industry and our guests have been talking about how wonderful their vacation experience is,” said Kevin Kelly, president of the wellness-focused company that has resort locations in Arizona and Massachusetts. ‘‘But by the time we get home, by the fifth or sixth day, I’ve been on deadline at work, I’m running around picking up the kids.... Real life comes back in.”

The Canyon Ranch Living Community will provide a supportive environment while offering Canyon Ranch’s holistically healthy programs conveniently at home, Kelly said.

The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is ‘‘a sophisticated, affluent market” where more than 7,000 people have visited a Canyon Ranch facility in the last two to three years, Kelly said.

The company ultimately decided on the Rock Spring Centre location because of its proximity to the District and because of the development’s diverse retail and office offerings, he said.

At the Rock Spring Centre site, where a construction crane sat immobile for months, workers are scheduled to begin construction in June and complete the complex by 2008.

Already, hundreds of people have expressed interest in living at the Canyon Ranch community, said Rock Spring Centre developer Mark Gregg, president of the Vienna, Va.-based Penrose Group.

From one-bedroom units to 6,000-square-foot penthouse suites, condominium prices will range from $900,000 to more than $7 million, Gregg said.

‘‘If this were strictly a condominium,” said Bethesda resident Stuart Bindeman, ‘‘I would say to you it’s grossly overpriced.”

But with Canyon Ranch services like cooking and nutrition classes, massages, medical tests, high-tech muscle analyzing exercise equipment and even a beauty salon, the condominiums are worth their prices, he said.

The 59-year-old commercial real estate investor has already planned to move out of his single-family home and buy a three-bedroom condominium in the complex.

Since he started vacationing at Canyon Ranch resorts with his family 15 years ago, Bindeman said he lost 25 pounds and learned a lot about healthy living, like how to avoid overeating at restaurants.

‘‘One of the things they say is when your meal is served to you, take it, cut it in half and ask the person right at the beginning, ‘Would you take this back and wrap it up for me?’” he said. ‘‘Because psychologically, when your plate is empty, you feel full.”

These are the kinds of lessons that Canyon Ranch classes teach, Bindeman said.

They provide information, but you make the decision, he said.

‘‘It’s not a cult,” Bindeman said. ‘‘Nobody sits there with a ruler and raps your fingers if you want seconds on dessert. They’ll bring it to you with a smile and nobody will say anything bad about you the next day.”

Over time, he said, ‘‘your body takes over for you... [and] you say, ‘I don’t want it.’”

The Canyon Ranch lifestyle is ‘‘a healthy lifestyle that you can live, that you can maintain,” he said, adding that it will be even easier with the facilities located at his residence.

The Canyon Ranch wellness center, where all services and programs are held, will only be accessible to residents, hotel guests and possibly some non-resident members, Kelly said.

The restaurant, however, will be open to the public.

‘‘It is not nuts and berries,” said Bindeman, admitting that he expected to starve when he first visited a Canyon Ranch resort.

Instead, he feasted on fresh salads, filet mignon and lobster. The servings are not huge, but Bindeman said his body got used to eating less.

With medical professionals on staff and medical experts available via tele-conferencing from the Cleveland Clinic, Canyon Ranch may seem like an in-house doctor’s office.

Kelly said he would not recommend that residents cancel their health insurance policies, but described Canyon Ranch as ‘‘a form of insurance policy where you’re going to maximize or optimize your health in your life.”

‘‘We’re not trying to get into the primary insurance care business,” he said. ‘‘We’ll leave it up to Blue Cross and Blue Shield. This is really complementary care to the core insurance.”

The North Bethesda complex will be the second residential development established by Canyon Ranch. The first, slated to open in 2007, is in Miami Beach where 373 oceanfront condominiums priced from about $1 million to more than $5 million were sold in less than six months.

The company is also looking into opening residential locations in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, Kelly said.

‘‘We seek to put these in primary residential marketplaces because we believe that it’s much easier to de-stress when I leave my everyday life and go on vacation,” he said. ‘‘The challenge today is to build a primary residential environment that allows me to live healthier while I’m going to work and dealing with the kids.... and dealing with the stresses of everyday life.”