By Wiley Henry,

Vincent Gardley is vacillating between moving the French Riviera Spa he operates in the Whitehaven Plaza to the Southgate Shopping Center on Third Street or the Southland Mall Shopping Center on Shelby Drive. He’d rather stay put but that option is not on the table.

Gardley purchased the spa a year and a half ago from a Utah resident who owns 20 French Riviera Spas throughout the Southeast. That purchase did not make Gardley the leaseholder on the Whitehaven Plaza property. After learning of that and moving to explore his options, Gardley found out that the choices available at that point did not include him continuing to run his French Rivera Spa operation from the Whitehaven Plaza Spot.

The bombshell created a predicament for Gardley: He’d increased the spa’s membership considerably within a relatively short time. Now he has to move and risk losing what he’d gained.

Southgate is 5.87 miles north of the spa’s current location and Southland is 1.20 miles south.

“I have two leases on my desk and I’m going to make a decision in a few weeks. So I have some options. I’m trying to decide which way to go,” said Gardley, who learned in April that he has to vacate the building at 4130 Elvis Presley Blvd. by October.

“We’re trying to keep it under $7,500 a month,” said Gardley, hoping the new location will keep the spa’s growing membership in tact as well as draw others. “We need about 9,000 square feet. We would love to have 11 or 12.”

The price has to be right, he said.

Relocating the spa would require transporting several elliptical machines, tread climbers, punching bags, upright cycling bikes, rowing machines, weight benches and other cardio exercise equipment. But Gardley doesn’t see this as a problem – just a setback.

“All we need is space and don’t require a huge build out – offices and stuff like that,” he said. “We can move in 10 days.”

Gardley purchased the spa from Ren Rice, who still is the leaseholder on the property.

“He did buy that business…but the lease that we have, Vincent is not even on it, said Rick Smith, director of property management with Finard Properties, which owns the Whitehaven Plaza. “So our dealings are with our leaseholder.”

A 10-year lease agreement for the spa is on file with Finard. But Smith would not divulge much information about the lease, citing landlord and tenant confidentially. He did say, however, that there are no options after the lease expires in October, meaning the lease will not be renewed.

“So what we did was we reached out to the person on the lease, the company on the lease,” said Smith, “and we told them…that you need to check your lease and its statements and requirements…the end of the term.”

Smith said he’d heard about “the potential sale (of the French Riviera Spa) through the grapevine” and notified Rice to tell him “y’all need to check this before you do anything. At that point, there was nothing more that we could do.”

Gardley called Smith in an attempt to renegotiate the lease.

“I was told that the people I bought the spa from were in violation of the lease by selling me the place,” said Gardley.

“When Vincent did reach out to me, I spoke with him as absolutely open curtain as I could,” said Smith. “But I still had some restrictions, because Vincent was not on the lease. And anytime that a business under a lease agreement has transactions, that has to be approved by the property owner.”

Gardley looked back on his conversation with Smith. “I said, ‘Oh, I wish somebody had told me this, that there was a problem.’ But, of course, they continued to take my money,” he said. “They kept taking a rent check from me with my name on it, with my company’s name on it.”

Smith said, “We don’t review every single payment that comes in in terms of whose checking account did that come from. They’re just going to mark it paid and credit it to the account down in the credit department. That’s no different than if I go and pay your light gas and water bill.”

Gardley is not dismayed, not even after learning that Finard is leasing the former Ike’s pharmacy at 4126 Elvis Presley to Planet Fitness, a national chain. Renovation has already begun and Planet Fitness should open around the time the lease comes to an end for French Riviera Spa, Smith said.

“We’ve been working on that lease for quite some time,” he said. “These things take six, 12 months, and even more to work out the economics…the construction…the lease agreement and the language therein.”

It is not customary for a landlord to pit two competing businesses against each other, Smith said. “Most likely, what will end up are two people who can’t pay their rent.”

Acknowledging that Gardley is in a bad spot, Smith said, “Vincent is a fine young man and he is a great operator. It’s a bad situation.”

Gardley has been forthright with his French Rivera Spa clients.

“Soon as I found out about this, I talked to the members and told them the lease won’t be renewed and that we would have to move,” said Gardley, who was upbeat in February when he talked to The New Tri-State Defender about his expansion plans for the Whitehaven location.

“We’re obligated by law to honor the lease agreement,” said Smith. “But it doesn’t change Vincent’s predicament. That’s the burden of the story.”