- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - In Amanda Kitanga’s neighborhood in Chicago, she could easily walk to four different yoga studios. So when the 26-year-old moved to the District of Columbia earlier this year, Kitanga looked for a place near her new NoMa apartment to keep up her practice.

There wasn’t one.

“It was so strange,” Kitanga says. “I didn’t want to take the Metro being a sweaty person.”

The folks in charge of NoMa’s Business Improvement District must not have wanted her to either. In October, the group opened its own studio: Yoga NoMa. The cozy room with bamboo floors hosts several classes a day in multiple styles for all levels of students.

Starting a brick-and-mortar business is an unusual step for a BID to take, acknowledges NoMa’s director of marketing and events, Rachel Davis. But while residences, offices and restaurants have flooded the 35-block area, fitness establishments simply haven’t followed suit.

“There hasn’t been the right space at the right time,” says Davis, who notes that outdoor fitness events in the neighborhood have always been well attended and surveys have demonstrated demand for years.

So when the BID was presented with a donated space (courtesy of Polinger, Shannon & Luchs and Principal Real Estate Investors), it didn’t seem like much of a stretch to turn it into a yoga studio. Ayers Saint Gross, a neighborhood architecture firm, even offered its interior design services gratis.

The spot is a tad tricky to find - students must step through a door beside the front desk of an office lobby, and then follow a series of footstep icons down a hallway. But the payoff is some of the most affordable yoga in the city. Sessions range from $10 to $15, depending on the length and type of class. And the blue “Yoga NoMa”-branded mats are free of charge to borrow.

The BID isn’t looking to make big bucks on yoga, Davis says, although the hope is that the business will prove to be self-sustaining. (The fact that several classes have already sold out is a good sign, she adds.)

As with most of the BID’s projects, the goal here is to help build community, Davis explains. Many neighborhood buildings - including Kitanga’s - boast fitness facilities for residents or employees, but they’re exclusive by design.

“This is accessible to more people. A yoga studio can be one of those third places in society where you make connections,” Davis says.

And for Kitanga, it’s also a place she can get to in five minutes when she needs to walk her downward facing dog.

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Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com

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