Boston Athletic Club – Private Or Public Health Club?

Racquetball and Handball at the BAC ain’t Beanbag. Those who play these sports ain’t pushovers. Elected leaders know it and are weighing in. BAC management has yet to.

As reported last week, it had come to the attention of this newspaper that there are plans underway to convert certain areas of the BAC facility from their current uses as handball and racquetball courts. Handball, for sure, and racquetball by extension and reputation are, arguably South Boston Traditions. SBT reached some South Boston elected officials for comment on this story, as promised in last week’s column. A message was also left for BAC management.

Private citizens pay dues, but the BAC is not a completely private undertaking. The facility sits on land that the Massachusetts Port Authority owns and leases at its discretion. According to public records, the BAC has enjoyed the support of the South Boston community and its elected officials over its history. It is fair to acknowledge that the Pappas family has deep ties to the South Boston community and it is likewise as fair to acknowledge that the community assumes that the relationship has an expectation of longevity for the foreseeable future.

“Just as originally planned when it first opened, the handball and racquetball courts at the BAC are part of the sports and social fabric of this neighborhood. Generations of South Bostonians have gathered there/, and I hope that the owners will revisit this decision and find a way to preserve such an vibrant part of our community.”, says Rep. Nick Collins.

City Councilors Bill Linehan and Mike Flaherty jointly stated, “Handball and racquetball players at the club have supported the BAC and the Pappas Family throughout the years. They should be acknowledged for their loyalties and longtime support and not be forgotten”.

Former City Councilor and current Register of Deeds Stephen Murphy, a BAC admirer, stated, “I would like it to stay as is. There are a number of residents who enjoy the sports of handball and racquetball. Both sports are very much alive and this is a great recreational pastime. It is the reason that a certain percentage of members belong to the Boston Athletic Club.”

The BAC is considered among the core South Boston community institutions that are being affected and influenced by the incredible popularity of this section of Boston. Need they be reminded that it wasn’t always this popular. The neighborhood touch, the importance of tradition, and the value of loyalty is foundational to an urban enclave like South Boston. Those who thrive off of this community dynamic, including commercial and corporate enterprises, would do well to understand that the residents, at the very least, expect a mutuality of respect. Its neighborliness, traditions and value system need not be embraced, but should certainly be factors in market assessment, when it comes to offering services or programs. This is not a one size fits all consumer market. The disposable income of new, younger and often fickle consumers can fluctuate, as new fads take hold. Older consumers are reliable.

Whatever has motivated the BAC owners and managers to accommodate the fickle to the detriment of the reliable is puzzling. When the lease renewal time comes around, who will stand up and be counted in support of the BAC? The fickle or the reliable? As of today, we’d bet neither.