Real-estate Power Play
Unique Sports Facility May Become a Game Winner for Agawam SiteA little more than two years ago, Sean Provost, a local software salesman, was sitting in his car having lunch on the road between sales stops when he looked over at a ‘for-lease’ sign on a building in the Agawam Towne Center complex.
He remembers thinking to himself, “hmm … I wonder if that could work?”
‘That’ was a 20,000-square-foot space adjacent to the Dave’s Soda & Pet Food City facility in the former Ames department store location. When Provost saw it, it was being used as warehouse space for dog food and other products, but he immediately saw the potential it presented as the home for a dream he’d been trying to make reality for roughly a decade.
This dream involved creating what he called a “sports training center,” focused on hockey, which he’s played and coached, but also other sports. The concept calls for a facility where young people can learn a sport and develop their skills through practice. This vision required a large amount of open space, a good deal of flexibility, and an affordable price — three things he couldn’t find at dozens of other sites he considered, but a combination he encountered at the Agawam location.
Fast-forward those two years, and Provost, recently laid off from that sales job, is set to take a dramatic career turn as president of something called Stick Time Sports (STS), which will feature two mini-ice rinks — both 45 feet by 82 feet — as well as two 45-by-85-foot synthetic turf fields that can be used for a variety of sports, including lacrosse and field hockey. There is also an area for strength training and conditioning with machines and weights; a facility for conferences, birthday parties, and other events; locker rooms; and space for additional expansion.
All this fulfills one of Provost’s ambitions, but also creates some needed momentum in a large retail center that has struggled to reinvent itself since a FoodMart supermarket closed after its roof collapsed more than a decade ago. There are some new tenants moving into the complex, including a satellite facility for the YMCA of Greater Springfield, and it is hoped that those initiatives and Stick Time Sports can create greater vibrancy in that location.
Those were some of the sentiments expressed by Dave Ratner, owner of the former Ames building and Dave’s Soda & Pet City.
“I had to get some new warehouse space,” he said with a laugh in reference to the new development, “but this [venture] increases the value of the building, it will bring more potential customers to my store, and it will make the center more viable so new people might want to move in to the other side of the center. So all in all, it’s a win-win.
“Traffic gets traffic,” Ratner added. “The more places we get there, the more people will say, ‘I want to be there.’”
Meanwhile, STS is one of many sports-related business ventures taking shape in Agawam. In addition to STS and the Y’s facility, there are plans for something called the Plex Sports Park, a $7 million, indoor-outdoor complex to be built at the former Crowley’s Sales Barn and Stables site off Shoemaker Lane.
For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest takes a look at the STS project and how it may help bring more life to a once thriving retail section of Agawam.
Using some of his trademark humor, Ratner described his efforts over the past several years to lease out the 20,000 square feet next to his retail operation.
“The fact of the matter is, we had a lot of interest, but because the real-estate market isn’t real strong, people thought they were going to come in and we were going to pay them to take the space,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, while he wanted to find a tenant, he also liked having the space as a warehouse facility, so he wasn’t going to pull the trigger on a deal unless it really worked for both sides.
And in many ways, STS fits that description.
Ratner said it won’t be a huge revenue source, but it will potentially drive more traffic to his store while creating more momentum in the still-struggling retail plaza. “This is a huge deal,” he noted. “I think his business is going to explode more than he thinks it’s going to explode, and I think he’s going to need every bit of space over there.”
And that’s why he worked with Provost to not only ink a lease, but get his venture off the ground.
“I sat down with him and I said, ‘I think it’s a home run, but you have to get your business plan together,’” said Ratner, adding that he ran though the lengthy process of taking a concept from the drawing board to reality, essentially becoming Provost’s ‘Mr. Murphy,’ a reference to Murphy’s Law.
“Whenever you do anything in business, Murphy’s Law — Mr. Murphy — moves in right next to you,” said Ratner.
Having been a partner years ago in a group that owned and operated the Mushie’s Driving Range on Main Street in Agawam, Provost said he learned a good bit about what not to do in business, and eventually got out of that relationship (that property is now being turned into a solar farm).
And for his second foray into commercial real estate, Provost began working with the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network in Springfield, where he received assistance to finalize his business plan, along with help to secure two business partners: Daryl Devillier, associate vice president with Raymond James, and partner Sal LaBella. The partners eventually secured bank financing for the estimated $1 million buildout of the property.
Provost said STS is going to be dedicated to providing athletes of all ages from Western Mass. and Northern Conn. the opportunity to practice, train, improve their skills, and just have fun in a positive atmosphere.
Provost explained that there’s really no facility in the region where parents or coaches can rent some ice and enable young people to get some invaluable practice time and hone their skills. “For instance, baseball players can warm up anywhere, but hockey is different, and now, two kids can share a half-hour to shoot a few hundred pucks at $15 apiece.”
He added that the site will also fill a void in the region for full-year, under-14 and under-16 boys hockey, and its location, just a few miles from both the Connecticut line and several Western Mass. population centers, enables it to tap into both markets.
Richard Cohen, Agawam’s mayor and also an avid former hockey player and coach, is a strong supporter of the STS concept, and told BusinessWest it’s a perfect fit for the town’s growing inventory of sports-related businesses.
“It goes along with what we’re trying to put together … a sports complex that was originally going to go in Chicopee” but couldn’t get special permit approval for a site there, said Cohen, referring to the Plex Sports Park, an indoor-outdoor facility with an 80-foot-high, inflatable dome.
Cohen also noted that one of the other Agawam Towne Center building owners is looking into indoor karting as an addition to the retail area that now includes Dave’s and STS, Slot Car Speedway, Friendly’s Restaurant, and the soon-to-open, 8,500-square-foot Y Express Wellness & Program Center.
And just a few hundred feet from Agawam Towne Center, the long-vacant Games and Lanes building is in the subject of a $50,000 site assessment, funded by MassDevelopment, to determine the scope of needed environmental remediation, an important first step in putting the property back in use.
“There is a developer who wants to do business retail there,” said Cohen, “so my goal is to help get that project finalized for that entire area.”
Looking to the future, Provost and his partners purchased a ‘chiller,’ the compressor that makes and maintains the ice, which is larger than they actually need and will allow them to build a third mini-rink on a portion of the turf area.
Meanwhile, the idea of expansion elsewhere is also being discussed.
“There’s no room to physically expand, but we think if this works here, it can certainly work in other places,” he said, adding that there is still a sizeable inventory of former warehouse and retail facilities that could become home to such ventures.
For now, though, he’s focused on making STS the win-win proposition that he, Ratner, Cohen, and others believe it can become. And he believes there will be net results in many forms.
Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]