OAKHURST – Don’t mess with bowlers. We’re a hardy breed and highly motivated most days.
This seemed to be the consensus on Thursday night, Aug. 8, as approximately 200 people took their seats inside the Oakhurst Community Center to hear about bold plans for a new recreation center which may include up to 24 lanes and a sports bar.
The mood in the room was very positive as people were obviously excited at the prospect of regaining lost recreation and even enhancing the economic development of the region. 24 lanes would make the hoped-for Oakhurst Bowl league-friendly with the potential to bring tournaments to the area and a boon to local restaurants, hotels and shops.
Clearly, people want another bowling alley, and want it now. All that stands between Oakhurst and an updated venue is about a million dollars; half that amount has been promised and there are efforts underway to raise the rest. The meeting was about getting everyone “rolling in the same direction.”
Local businessman Jeff Schneider is leading the charge to build Oakhurst Community Bowl and invited all those interested to the kick-off meeting. People came out in droves, from across the mountain area, to hear what Schneider and his team had to say.
“Toward the end of the 2012/13 bowling season, and 40 days before the last league day, Sierra Lanes was permanently closed,” recounts Schneider. “They took something special away. Sierra Lanes served as a recreation center for 9 or 10 surrounding communities and several thousand regular bowlers,” including kids, teens and seniors, since the 1980s.
Fresno native Schneider is a personable guy with a clear vision and persuasive manner who’s been bowling since he was five. Married to 20-year Oakhurst resident Amy (arguably his greatest “asset”) Schneider is a business and marketing expert who opened the meeting by explaining that he’d already been looking at properties with the help of Brad Ditton of Century 21 Ditton Realty. Ditton has pledged to forgo his usual commission on any land purchased for this project, in hopes of keeping costs at a minimum.
“We have a site in mind to build a recreation center,” Schneider says, referring to three individual parcels for sale between Oka and Sears in Oakhurst. “The proposed center would include bowling as the center piece along with entertainment, sport and recreational amenities included in the design.”
Schneider is hoping for a sports bar, too. Meanwhile, time is of the essence. If any one of those parcels is sold off individually, that could put the kibosh on efforts to expand the recreation center to 24 lanes. Other properties remain in the mix, as well.
It seems as though Schneider has the right people along on this trip. Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler spoke in favor of the idea, and later asked some salient questions about funding. Schneider is looking for investors, even an “angel,” to get this project literally off the ground, but the meeting wasn’t about money so much as gathering support and momentum to put this grand plan into action.
Dave Wolin, Chairman of the Eastern Madera County Economic Development Commission, also spoke favorably on the ideas presented, as did Darin Soukup, Operations Manager of the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce. All agree this undertaking will require tremendous support from local contractors and others in order to keep expenses down.
It was outstanding to see Jim Tiernen, former Sierra Lanes pro, step up to the mic and encourage the crowd. While future plans may include a super kid-friendly high-end arcade, batting cage, golf driving cage and a host of other spiffy add-ons, Tiernan stressed that the bowling alley will need to start with three things to be economically viable and sustainable: excellent lanes, delicious snacks and a classy sports bar. No one argued about those ideas, and all hope for a full service pro shop, too.
Buzzwords at the meeting were feasible, economical and sustainable. Schneider is looking into fabricated walls, underfloor heating and solar panels that could make the center viable for the next thirty to forty years, which is about as long as the visionary plans to live and bowl in Oakhurst. He’s got a lead on what he calls a “bowling alley in a box,” in Newcastle, Colorado, from a bowling alley that failed and has been overtaken by a church. The parishioners dismantled the lanes and it’s all ready to go for a good price. Schneider even has truckers who’ve volunteered to bring it home to Oakhurst.
Besides a large group of supporters and Schneider’s careful explanation of the bowling alley plan, most vocal were the bowlers in the audience. Once Schneider covered the overall scheme to buy the land with help from investors and build a bowling alley from the ground up, the floor was offered to the enthusiasts themselves. A few people had concerns, many had questions, and it seemed as though virtually everyone expressed a passion to re-establish the sport they’ve missed all summer since the old bowling alley closed down.
Between the sounds of laughter and frequent applause, one phrase was repeated several times and met with great approval. “If we build it, they will come.”
For more info go to www.oakhurstbowl.com
You can also see photos of the bowling alley that’s for sale in Colorado by visiting their FB page here.