After losing its headquarters on Sept. 11, fitness management company Plus One vows to come back "stronger than ever."

NEW YORK — August 31, 9 a.m. The senior management team for Plus One, a company that oversees 20 corporate and commercial fitness centers, convened at the World Trade Center Club, located on the 107th floor of One World Trade Center, for a strategy meeting. As the discussions drew to a close, the management team decided to schedule part two of the meeting. At first, they considered holding the next session in the trade center, but eventually agreed that the second meeting should take place in their corporate headquarters — across the street at 90 West St.

The location chosen, the Plus One senior managers picked a date and time.

Sept. 11, 9 a.m.

“It was just eerie that we could have been up in the trade center,” said Tom Maraday, Plus One's vice president of design and development.

While Plus One employees were not in the trade center on that fateful day, they were close enough to witness the horrific events. And the attacks did not spare their business. The collapsing towers and subsequent fires destroyed Plus One's corporate offices. The Plus One-managed Merrill Lynch corporate fitness center, located on the ground floor of the nearby Two World Financial Center, was devastated. A commercial center in One World Financial Center, Plus One Fitness Clinic, suffered water damage.

After the second plane struck, Plus One's office building evacuated. Out on the chaotic streets, some Plus One employees from the corporate office, as well from the financial center locations, administered first aid to the injured. One employee, the assistant director of training, received care herself after being hurt by falling debris, then volunteered at a nurse's station eight blocks away.

As the day progressed, Maraday began the task of accounting for the 75 Plus One employees who worked near the World Trade Center. By 6 p.m., he knew they were all alive. However, some members weren't as fortunate. Three physical therapy patients from Plus One Fitness Clinic lost their lives in the attacks. And as more information becomes available, that number could grow.

While the employees are safe, they saw tragedies “now imbedded into their minds as a recurring nightmare,” according to Maraday. To help them cope with the aftermath, Plus One set up a program to comfort the workforce. The company also used its intranet to get information and support to employees.

“We have an employees' assistance program that we implemented the week after this happened,” Maraday said. “It's not just a crisis hotline. We have a counselor coming in every week.”

With the employees contacted, Plus One's next task was establishing a new center of command. The search was on for a temporary headquarters.

“The whole dot-com implosion has benefited a lot of people displaced from the trade center and the surrounding buildings,” Maraday said. “We looked at three spaces and all three were the results of dot-coms going out of business.”

By Friday, Sept. 14, Plus One had moved into new offices at 26th and 8th Ave. “We occupied space that was available in our communication vendor's offices,” Maraday said.

Since this vendor had supplied Plus One with T1 lines and telephone systems, the fitness company was able to get connected immediately to its remaining 18 fitness locations. And the fact that Plus One backed up and stored data off-site got the company up and running more quickly. In fact, a week after establishing new offices, all of Plus One's employees received their paychecks — on schedule.

The communication vendor wasn't the only company that lent Plus One a helping hand. Manufacturers have offered temporary equipment and moving support. Equinox and New York Sports Clubs have given discounts to Plus One members. Nearby clubs have also hired some of the Plus One employees who had worked at the closed financial center locations.

Although Plus One has lost a fifth of its revenue due to the tragedy, the company remains upbeat. Plus One has even adopted “stronger than ever” as its new motto.

“The challenge of this all has incredibly motivated everyone here,” Maraday said. “And I think it's just part of what our city is going through and our country is going through. It just reflects what a lot of other people are feeling about moving forward and beating this, not letting this impact us as much as they would like it to.

“Although it's been devastating, we want to jump on this bandwagon of getting back to normal, being better than even what we were before, and getting our business stronger than it was before.”

Plus One is already on track to becoming stronger. The company plans to open three state-of-the-art fitness centers in the first quarter of 2002. Plus One also intends to re-open the two closed fitness centers. And, with the help of its disaster recovery and business continuity insurance, Plus One expects to move into new permanent offices within the next six months. Where? Not far from its old downtown location, near the trade center.

“That's where we've always existed,” Maraday said, “and we want to be back there.”