Rec Centers: The New Anchors for Redevelopment

Across America, there's a need to redevelop aging shopping centers. Big box stores like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Target have been scrambling to adapt to a new retail environment. New purchase markets and an evolving buyer behavior are forcing stores to downsize. There's also a similar, if not more important, need to improve our community's health and wellness.

What do these two situations have in common? Redeveloping blighted areas into vibrant centers of recreation and park opportunities can be a logical step to building stronger communities.

The Life and Death of Shopping Centers

Grayfield is the term for land underneath enclosed shopping centers that were built in the 60s and 70s, flourished in the 80s and 90s, and were essentially dead by the turn of the century. It's estimated that in ten years, nearly three million acres of grayfields will be open for redevelopment. This is great news for community leaders looking to expand natural resource preservation, promote good stewardship, and increase access to the programs, facilities, and places that make our communities great.


An Economic Anchor in the Midwest

Turning a grayfield into a vibrant rec/wellness center is a process that can be used to reinforce civic pride and further economic development. As the first improvement and anchor on a blighted site, the Romeoville Athletic & Event Center in Romeoville, Illinois, contributed to a rebirth of commercial redevelopment in the Uptown Square community.

Turning the 10.7-acre grayfield site into a beautiful recreation center meant focusing first on investors. We encouraged the use of tax increment financing (TIF) dollars to fund the construction, and partnering with a private company who would operate the facility for the first five years.

The recreation center includes two primary profit centers: an indoor turf field was installed to attract soccer (the third most popular team sport in the U.S.), lacrosse, football, softball, and rugby teams, while two hard courts attract basketball (the most popular indoor sport in the U.S.), volleyball, and dance classes. Portable wood floor systems can even convert the 40,000-square-foot turf area into six basketball courts for summer use.

These two areas have become the center's profit nucleus as recreational players use the floors daily, and club tournaments draw hundreds of regional athletes (and their families) to the area. The inaugural weekend tournament was Nike's Spring Showdown, which attracted 200 teams from 10 states and Canada.


Make Grayfields Work for Your Community

A recreation center is an enticing way to get members of the community out and about. Once out of their homes, people are more likely to eat at restaurants, shop, and visit with other community members. It's then that the economic development market takes over as retail and private businesses move to where the people are.