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The Buffalo Athletic Club has agreed to take over the beleaguered health facility inside Amherst's four-rink Pepsi Center, town officials announced Tuesday.

Although the Town Board still must approve the deal, the possible BAC takeover represents a turning point for the health club, which has been plagued with problems since it opened in late 1998.

"We're glad to have the BAC here because they have 20 years of experience," said Supervisor Susan J. Grelick.

The former owner of the health club, Todd Champlin, ran into financial problems early on. In an interview Tuesday, he said when he could no longer pay his rent, he told the Pepsi Center in early June that it would have to find a new tenant. As a result, the BAC started providing free consulting in September and evaluating whether it wanted to run the facility.

Champlin had hoped the town would have a new tenant in place before he left, and said he even stayed on an extra 45 days, but eventually had to take a job in Indiana as a physical therapist.

With the BAC's name and proven success, town officials expect the health club to flourish under the proposed new owner.

If the Town Board approves the deal, the BAC would incorporate the Pepsi Center location into its network of five clubs.

Memberships previously purchased for the Pepsi Center health club would be good at all BAC locations. All BAC members could then use the Pepsi Center location, including 12,000 BAC members living in Amherst.

New members at the Pepsi Center could join only that facility for $34.95 per month or pay $39.95 per month and use any location.

Under the proposal, Amherst would be guaranteed $3,500 per month plus profit sharing. The town would get 15 percent of membership revenues above $300,000, up to a maximum of $500,000.

The BAC also would get, for free, health equipment the town purchased for the former owner. Meanwhile, the BAC would install an attraction found no where else in the Buffalo area -- synthetic ice.

The plastic surface would cover 1,500 square feet and requires no refrigeration, said Bob Schiffhauer, president of BAC Suburban Inc. Hockey players strap on their skates and practice with an instructor just as they would on real ice, but for a fraction of the cost. Health club memberships wouldn't include time on the synthetic ice.

However, the BAC wouldn't have to share profits from this new feature.

The BAC has not decided what it would charge, but in Canada, a half hour of instruction time costs about $20 in U.S. currency. .

"There will be a lot more attention drawn to the facility, which can bring in revenue in other areas," Schiffhauer said.

While the future looks bright, the town still has to collect back rent from Champlin, who said he intends to repay the debt.

"We'll go after it aggressively," Grelick said. "It's in the hands of the town attorney."

Because town officials refused to comment as recently as Friday on the unpaid rent, The Buffalo News -- using documents obtained under the state's Freedom of Information Act -- pegged the back rent at more than $56,000. The amount was based on Champlin not paying his $7,050 rent for eight months.

However, town officials said the contract limits them to collecting six months back rent. And instead of $7,050 per month, the town is basing its figure on $6,050. Champlin had paid an extra $1,000 for a weight room but asked the town to discontinue that in April, the last month he paid rent.

Town officials also deducted a $6,050 security deposit from the debt.

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