Sports complex targets families

Commercial real estate

September 10, 1990|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

It took four months and about $600,000 to transform the huge indoor tennis barn crouching behind a York Road gas station into a family-oriented sports emporium.

It was a harder job than it might have seemed. The high slanting roof panels had to be scraped, patched and painted, then big cement trucks and construction excavation equipment brought in to scoop out the cement floor to make a beveled ball-retrieval surface for the baseball batting cages.

Cement had to be poured for the three water fountains in the 18-hole indoor miniature golf course. Then, new electrical and plumbing connections had to be made and the 1,700 square feet of blue indoor-outdoor carpeting laid.

All that on a "gut feeling" -- a hunch, according to David Shapiro, 33, of Owings Mills, part-owner and president of Sports, in the first block of Halesworth Road, just north of Cranbrook Road. Shapiro's father, Herbert, for whom he had worked in the family's Southern Fuel Co., is his only partner, David said.

He scouted the county for locations for his idea for an indoor sports arena, he said, and arranged to lease the 38,400-square-foot tennis barn, which came with the proper zoning intact and a 15-year lease. A new building would have been too expensive, he said.

With only two other full-time workers besides himself, David said, he hopes to attract 100,000 people a year to the facility, which has 54 parking spaces.

The busiest times, he said, are on weekends and weekday evenings when more part-time workers are there, but he is open daily on weekdays at 10 a.m. and at 9 a.m. on weekends. He wants to encourage the businessman who wants to come drive a few golf balls on the indoor driving range at lunch, or the summer softball player who wants to keep his or her batting eye as the weather gets cooler, or the seniors or shift workers who might want to play miniature golf, video machines or air hockey during the day.

Shapiro said be strongly believes that he has found a niche in the entertainment market with his scrupulously family-oriented indoor facility and without benefit of expensive market studies. "If I'd taken time for a market study, I'd have lost the building," he said.

An intense young family man, the father of two young sons, he has been successful so far in getting a lot of free advertising on television news and feature shows and in local newspapers. He says word of mouth is his best bet for spreading word of his facility.

He wants to make a good impression on every customer, he said. He made careful choices to exclude pool tables, alcoholic beverages at the snack bar or video poker machines just to eliminate any possible negative perception.

Shapiro, a Milford High grad, is betting on the bowling alleys being full of league players, the movies being a bad midweek idea, and lots of children's birthday parties in the glass-enclosed party area to get things going.

There's no admission charge to the facility, but each activity costs separately. Twenty machine-pitched softballs or baseballs cost $1.50, the miniature gold costs $4.50 for adults, $3.50 for children under age 12, and $3.75 for seniors before 3 p.m. The vending amusement machines are a quarter a play, and the computerized driving ranges cost $5 for five dozen golf balls.

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