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Business groups urge Whitmer to reopen gyms, movie theaters

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Business groups urged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a Thursday letter to consider reopening gyms, bowling alleys, theaters and other businesses that have remained closed even as others reopened months ago. 

The businesses are facing severe financial issues because of the closure, including the Grand Rapids YMCA, which laid off 1,000 workers recently, said leaders for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Association of Michigan, the Grand Rapids Chamber and Detroit Regional Chamber. 

Owner Ken Welch has been anticipating officially reopening Pointe Fitness and Training Center in Harper Woods for several weeks. Closed during the coronavirus state shut down, many gyms are ready to open and some have opened. Photos taken in Harper Woods, Mich. on June 25, 2020.

The letter asked Whitmer to meet with the groups to discern how to safely reopen and consider property tax deferrals for each of the businesses. 

"We believe that if industries like restaurants, public swimming pools, casinos and others can find a way to safely open in some capacity, we can also find a way to safely open gyms, theaters, bowling alleys and other industries," the letter said. 

The groups urged the governor to work with the Legislature to pass laws that would protect from coronavirus lawsuits any business taking "reasonable steps" to follow appropriate health guidelines. 

"We ask that you and your administration find ways to give businesses, especially those that remain closed, a fighting chance -- and soon," the letter said. 

The letter was penned a day after Whitmer said in a press conference that she was working with the Department of Health and Human Services to reevaluate policies that have kept those businesses closed. 

She said she may have a determination on the prospect next week. 

"We’ve asked them (HHS) to articulate all of the businesses that still have zero presence in terms of economic reopening, where we can do another assessment on risk mitigation to determine if we might consider making some improvements in the policy," Whitmer said. 

"I would anticipate I would be able to share a little more on that front with you next week as that work is happening right now."

Most businesses in Michigan closed abruptly March 23 when Whitmer issued her Stay Home, Stay Safe order in an attempt to control the spread of the virus. 

She gradually loosened the restrictions, allowing 17 northern Michigan counties and the Upper Peninsula to reopen restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters in May. She re-tightened bar restrictions there in July. 

Lower Michigan restaurants reopened in June. 

Last month, Whitmer allowed Detroit's three casinos to reopen at 15% capacity.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com