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THE GREAT OUTDOORS / GETTING ACTIVE BY LAND

Identity Crisis : There's Tons of Fun at Super Sports, but What Exactly Is It?

June 26, 1996|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

ORANGE — Welcome to the county's first shopping mall for recreation.

Fittingly, Super Sports' Golf and Recreation Center is next to the Mall of Orange, offering a unique variety of physical activities.

The complex includes a golf practice facility, arena soccer fields, a roller skating rink and a park for in-line skaters, skateboarders and BMX bicycle riders.

"We have something for everyone," said Kent Hawkins, Super Sports' chief operating officer.

But this venue's visibility has been limited.

"There are people in this neighborhood who don't even know about this place," said Rick Bohlen, who works at the skate park.

The majority of an old junior high school was torn down at the site and new facilities were constructed. But after one year of operation, the complex's own innovation has also provided it without a conventional classification and a restricted identity. It is defined more by what it isn't.

Is it a public park?

The Orange Unified School District leases the property to Super Sports but the recreation center is not considered a city or county operation. All of the on-site vendors are privately owned and operated but also must conform to Super Sports' standards for the complex.

Is it a private health club?

Super Sports doesn't charge any fees to enter the complex and some of the facilities (tennis courts, jogging trail, baseball diamond, grass practice field) are free to the public. Each facility within the complex maintains its own fee structures and membership policies.

Is it an amusement park?

There aren't any attractions, video games or go-carts here. But the facility can cater to the same general audience with different recreational objectives.

"The amusement parks and fun centers [with miniature golf and arcades] are good," Hawkins said. "But we provide an active setting.

"I think it's the only one of its kind."

Super Sports began as a sports apparel company in Manhattan Beach before it expanded into developing and managing driving ranges.

In 1992, Super Sports was one of many organizations that submitted a proposal to the Orange Unified School District, which sought a project to take up the former site of Peralta Junior High.

"After they closed the school down, it became an eyesore to the community," Hawkins said.

After Super Sports was awarded the project, the original proposal went through many alterations. The driving range was the centerpiece of the original plan but that soon changed.

"We worked with the city and the community, taking their input for everything," Hawkins said. The popularity of soccer and roller hockey also helped precipitate the inclusion of those facilities into the complex, which opened in early 1995.

Stuart's Rollerworld is one of two facilities (the other is in Fullerton) owned by Stuart Silver, part of the Silver family that owns the Bullfrogs of Roller Hockey International.

Arena Soccer hooked up with Super Sports for its second facility (the first one opened in Garden Grove three years ago) and hosts practices for the Splash of the Continental Indoor Soccer League.

"We don't want to compete with all the different youth soccer leagues," said Bert Cortez, director of marketing for Arena Soccer. "We offer a supplemental training ground. The kids like it because the field is smaller and they get a lot more touches."

Cortez estimated that 200 teams per week play at the facility but 75% of the leagues are adult leagues. Word of mouth has helped growth for the soccer and roller hockey leagues as well as the skating park.

"We have people of all ages playing," Cortez said. "We even have a couple of 62-year-olds who play. This facility offers something for different members of the family, but all in the same area. One kid may want to play hockey, another may want to play soccer.

"I've received nothing but good responses from our clientele."

But not everything has been rosy.

Hawkins said there have been some complaints by neighbors about the lighting and noise, but is adamant that the complex adheres to all city ordinances. He also stresses that he will continue to work with the community to try and solve any problems.

"We want to work with our neighbors because we're going to be together for a while," Hawkins said.

This complex has proved so successful that Hawkins said Super Sports is looking into setting up similar parks in several other communities.

Gary Won, director of the Department of Community Services for Orange, understands the popularity and appeal of such a facility, but said that city- or state-owned facilities of the same makeup aren't likely in the near future.

"I think we will have a dichotomy," Won said. "We'll always have to take care of the traditional locations of recreation first. We still need more lighted fields for soccer, football, baseball and softball."

The private sector will probably continue to explore the financial feasibility of this new model of the recreation center.

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