Downtown gym owner says vagrants on Clematis are a big problem

Downtown gym owner says vagrants on Clematis are a big problem. (WPEC)

Calling it quits. A business owner on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach is packing up and moving because of the growing homeless problem plaguing our community.

He says vagrants are scaring his customers away and something needs to be done soon.

The owner of Ultima Fitness Downtown, 400 Clematis Street, says vagrants are screaming and swearing at customers, asking for money. And sometimes he’s had to block the front doors to his gym to stop them from coming in, trying to use the restroom.

“It’s my opinion that this is a commercial hellhole,” said Michael Platt, co-owner of Ultima Fitness Downtown.

Platt has been on Clematis street for 5 years.

But he says there are so many vagrants hassling and harassing his customers and pestering them for money that he’s closing up and moving.

“It’s a become a problem to the point where I have members that are quitting the gym because they feel unsafe, they feel uncomfortable, they feel disgusted,” Platt said.

His co-owner agrees that aggressive panhandlers are a big concern.

“Obviously it’s a problem that needs to be taken care of,” said Ian Curran, Ultima Fitness Downtown co-owner.

“In general the vagrants are making life extremely difficult for my members,” Platt said.

He says gym members can’t walk from Ultima Fitness Downtown on Clematis Street to the city parking garage less than a block away without being hit up for money.

And he feels Clematis is in decline, with numerous vacant storefronts.

“That’s a personal opinion of a merchant. I think there’s plenty of merchants that are doing well on Clematis and other parts of downtown,” said Armando Fana, director of West Palm Beach Housing and Community Development.

2016 census numbers show more than 1600 homeless people in Palm Beach County. Nearly half of them in West Palm Beach.

“The most appropriate way to move folks out of homelessness is to have a place to put ‘em. Right now there are a limited number of beds,” Fana said.

He says the city is trying to build more affordable housing and get help for those with mental health issues and substance abuse.

But Platt is moving Ultima Fitness Downtown to an office building on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach, where he says it’s safer.

He also says it’s a smaller location, and he no longer needs a 20,000 square foot gym.

Platt says over the years, he’s lost more than 300 gym members who left because they were afraid of vagrants and tired of being harassed for money on Clematis Street.

He opens at his new location on Flagler Drive in mid to late April. The gym has about 1500 members.

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