Politics As Usual: Starting A CrossFit Gym Part 3

After being a coach at CrossFit South Brooklyn in NYC for 6 years I moved halfway across the country to open my own affiliate, CrossFit Lumos, in Austin, TX. This series will chronicle my experience opening the gym and what I am learning along the way. This article is Part 3 of the adventure. Part 1. Part 2.


“Here’s to the pencil pushers, may they all get lead poisoning.”
-Eddie Valiant, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

When you decide you want to build a CrossFit affiliate, and even when you begin to take the steps to make it a reality, your facility occupies a mythical space in your mind. When you close your eyes you can see it- walls of gleaming white marble, with row upon row of shining barbells, plyo boxes of varnished italian rosewood, and a pullup rig made of gold smelted from sunken Spanish doubloons pulled from a pirate wreck.

In reality, your affiliate is a business that is subject to all of the normal vagaries of any enterprise in our world of complex rules, guidelines, and regulations. Sorry for interrupting your dream.

I got to Austin on a Thursday, and figured I’d take the weekend to settle in, enjoy my new city and then start work on my space on Monday. I had a general contractor recommended by a friend and figured he’d bring some hammers or dynamite or something, and we’d just get after it. A week or two of demo and we could start building! It was early August, and I full expected to be ready to open by October.

Basically, here was my order of operations:

  1. Knock down all interior walls
  2. Add some new walls (I’ve heard some people don’t like using the bathroom out in the open)
  3. Buy a bunch of sweet gym equipment
  4. ????????
  5. Profit!

Hahahahaha. Ha ha. Ha.

Instead, a “quick” trip to the Department of Buildings led me to learn that Austin, and likely any city, municipality, or even Scandinavian fishing village have some very specific rules about how that process goes. In reality my order of operations became:

  1. Get asbestos report for building (not nice to kill your contractors while they build your gym.)
  2. Apply for pre-demolition inspection, upon approval.
  3. Demo just non-structural stuff inside the building.
  4. Apply for post-demo inspection.
  5. Apply for something called a “Site Exemption,” the purpose of which is still not totally clear to me.
  6. Apply for a building permit, which has 10 parts that need to be satisfied.
  7. Initially have most of the 10 rejected, fix them, and resubmit, possibly repeat process ad infinitum.
  8. Get approved, build sweet gym.
  9. Realize you are now in your late 70’s, move into retirement community.

I kid, but it has been a much more incremental and rule bound process than I could have anticipated. Every permit applied for also needs sets of plans (electrical, plumbing, architectural, mechanical, etc.) and each one costs money. I ended up hiring a professional permit expediter whose sole job is to navigate the process and simply tell me what is needed at each step, then make sure it all gets done.

It’s been quite a process, with some twists and turns along the way. Just getting the building permit required having electrical, mechanical, and plumbing contractors come out and draw plans. Along the way, to control cost and save time some lofty ideas, like air conditioning, were abandoned. Slowly, things take shape, and then you send your building permit into the great beyond…and wait.

It’s the government (my former employer, so I get it) and things move slow. 3 weeks after our permit went in we got our first REJECTED notice- aside from the electrical work almost everything else had problems. A meeting with a few exceedingly pleasant and energetic city permitting staff elucidated what specifically needed to be fixed- then we strapped in for another round of calls to architects, plumbers, etc. to revise their plans. Finally, just as we were ready to resubmit our permit the city permitting division shut down for a week for a yearly training. Because of course it did.

So we sent the permit back in, and got a “Limited Permit” which let us get to work on some of the less problematic items, like installing our overhead doors, with the acknowledgment that if we screwed anything up it was on us to tear it all down and do it again. Another week or two, and voila the final permit, approved, stamped, blessed, and sprinkled with fairy dust- we’re ready to go.


What do you do while waiting on a building permit? First, you readjust your cost and time projections. My opening was pushed back at least 6 weeks, and with that time lag comes cost. Second, you find other things to do- interview potential hires, build some buzz, write overly wordy blog articles about the process, or just sit and stare at a wall all day. I’ll cover all that and the FINAL PUSH as the saga continues.

And maybe, just maybe, you make an epic Halloween costume (yes I made the helmet).

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Make America Mega Again

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