FitLot, a community fitness center on the Lafitte Greenway

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The FitLot is an outdoor fitness facility that's open to the public and free of charge. - PHOTO BY KATHERINE M. JOHNSON
  • Photo by Katherine M. Johnson
  • The FitLot is an outdoor fitness facility that's open to the public and free of charge.

Adam Mejerson was struck with an idea while walking on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv.

The boardwalk was full of the usual suspects: wandering tourists and joggers, but what was unusual about these joggers is that every few hundred feet or so, they would stop at a fitness station to do a quick workout before continuing to run.

Mejerson, who grew up in a household where his exercise physiologist father trained clients in their home, and who’s no stranger to fitness himself, having worked as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, had a thought.

“Other cities in other countries have spaces like (this) throughout the city so that everybody who wants it has access (to training equipment),” he says. “We took that as an example and designed our own park.”


Fitness stations include these stairs for 2-step climbing exercises. - PHOTO BY KATHERINE M. JOHNSON
  • Photo by Katherine M. Johnson
  • Fitness stations include these stairs for 2-step climbing exercises.

Mejerson took his idea to Propeller in January 2013, and thus, FitLot New Orleans (501 N. Galvez St., 504-264-1568; www.fitlot.org) was born. FitLot is an outdoor fitness facility housing 22 exercise stations on an open floor plan, covered by a large canopy. There also are nearly 50 hooks throughout the facility for resistance bands, which add the function of free weights without the extra baggage. The built-in exercise equipment includes a sit-up bench, steps and ladders for climbing workouts and a chin-up bar, all at no cost to users.

Getting FitLot from its inception to completion in early 2017 was no easy task.

“We were fundraising for just one park while also building an organization that can replicate the process,” Mejerson says. “We had several crowdfunding campaigns in 2015 — 500 people donated so we could buy the equipment, and then the custom-designed (structure) sat in a shipping container for a year until we could find the funding partners to actually do the installation.”

Originally, Mejerson and the FitLot team hoped to install the apparatus on the roof of the ReFresh Project at 300 N. Broad St., part of a coalition of local health-, wellness- and food-access businesses offering training, education and nutrition programs to the Broad Street neighborhoods.

“We wanted it to be accessible and part of the built environment, so that a culture (would arise) around it,” he says. “It becomes easier for people to get out and move a little bit, to make (exercise) a part of daily life.”

Construction of the Lafitte Greenway was nearing completion, and Mejerson jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the biking and walking path while still servicing the ReFresh Project and the Lafitte neighborhood.

Signage around the park includes diagrams that show optimal placement of resistance bands at each station. - PHOTO BY KATHERINE M. JOHNSON
  • Photo by Katherine M. Johnson
  • Signage around the park includes diagrams that show optimal placement of resistance bands at each station.

The site was well-chosen. The University of New Orleans Transportation Institute, in partnership with the Louisiana Transportation Research Center, installed an infrared sensor at the corner of N. Galvez and the Greenway for its Pedestrians and Bicyclists Count research program. On average, the sensor counts 900 people daily, Mejerson says. That’s 900 people passing by the FitLot every day.

“It’s hard to estimate (how many people use the FitLot gym), but it’s getting used pretty well, which has been great to see,” Mejerson says. “I’ve walked up and there was a guy using the sit-up bench and he says to me, ‘Man, this is the best thing they could have built out here.’”

The open-air set up offers residents a chance to get outside, and its location next to a playground is incentive for parents to bring their kids so they too can get moving.

“It’s different from being inside of a gym, which can be a mental barrier for some,” Mejerson says.

FitLot offers Wednesday Workouts, a weekly one-hour, coach-led circuit training class with Spanish and English instruction. Exercises consist of 45 seconds at each station and 15 seconds for transitions. Each drill can be modified by going at your own intensity and pace. The coaches demonstrate different ways to use each element of the FitLot space, and there are charts that explain it as well. But the best thing about these classes is that they are free and open to the public — not even just to neighborhood residents. The Greater New Orleans Foundation and the ReFresh Project cover the costs.

Each workout station at the FitLot is labeled to show the appropriate exercise for each piece of equipment. The labels also include QR codes, which will soon link to videos of New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead performing each exercise. - PHOTO BY KATHERINE M. JOHNSON
  • Photo by Katherine M. Johnson
  • Each workout station at the FitLot is labeled to show the appropriate exercise for each piece of equipment. The labels also include QR codes, which will soon link to videos of New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead performing each exercise.

Each station is labeled with a QR code that will soon link your smart phone to a relevant instructional video featuring New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead, whose What You Give Will Grow foundation matched all crowd-sourced donations to get the park built. The park is named for his organization.

The turnout so far has been great, and Mejerson is confident that participation will continue to increase as word spreads. The class attracts people of all ages.

“We’ve had 17-year-olds next to 67-year-olds, doing the same workout circuit,” he says.

People are welcome to bring their own equipment to the space. Resistance band sets are provided during coach-led workouts, and those sets are also available for purchase on the FitLot website.

The FitLot is just off the Lafitte Greenway at N. Galvez St. Ongoing fundraising for the park will pay for a cement path to connect the gym to the Greenway. - PHOTO BY KATHERINE M. JOHNSON
  • Photo by Katherine M. Johnson
  • The FitLot is just off the Lafitte Greenway at N. Galvez St. Ongoing fundraising for the park will pay for a cement path to connect the gym to the Greenway.

Mejerson hopes there will be another FitLot fitness center eventually, although he admits that getting the facility on the Lafitte Greenway fully operational — including a plan to construct a cement path to connect the FitLot to the Greenway — is his priority. The team is still fundraising, and commemorative bricks are available for purchase as a way of raising money for the outdoor gym.

“We’ve been so focused on this one, but we did set ourselves up as far as what we are here for as an organization, which is to help different neighborhoods through this process,” he says. “We’re looking for communities that have high foot traffic and useable space, but also places that may not have a lot of access to recreational facilities or gyms."

He plans to add more group fitness classes through partnerships with organizations like Team Red, White & Blue, a national organization that seeks to connect veterans with their communities through social and physical activities. Mejerson hopes the New Orleans chapter will soon host a weekly class at FitLot that’s open to all.




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