Archive » April 28, 2011
COUPLE NEEDS LOAN TO PROCEED WITH BOWLING ALLEY
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer
The proposal for a new bowling alley in Buellton has for the past two years been a labor of love, though an arduous one, for Valley residents Calisse and Ben Courtney.
But their plan to build a 16-lane family entertainment center on East Highway 246 hinges on help from the Buellton Redevelopment Agency, which by Journal press time may have decided whether to offer them the $1.5 million loan needed to move forward.
On Tuesday, the couple said they probably couldn’t steam forward without a financial jump-start from the agency, which improves “blighted” areas through infrastructural projects using property tax revenues. If the loan is approved, the alley would open within two years.
Last year, an economic development task force reviewed the Courtneys’ business plan and request for funds, drawing up three funding schemes that included: loaning them up to $1.5 million with the agency in a second or third position to recoup expenses if the project fails; the city purchasing the property and entering into a long-term lease agreement with the Courtneys; or the agency funding all “frontage public improvement” such as curb, gutter, sidewalk, street lights and all infrastructure requirements and upgrades pertaining to water, sewage and storm drains.
Ben and Calisse said the idea for a bowling alley has taken hold in the Valley but will probably hit a gutter unless a loan is provided. Recessionary fears, they say, have spooked banks from offering construction loans.
“The RDA was not our first stop. I’ve talked to hundreds of banks, and it’s not a matter of money,” Ben noted. “We’ve had bankers and lenders call us and then when it comes down to it, they say we’re not doing any lending. Everything is frozen.”
The lending deal they hoped would be approved, whether at the last meeting or at a future date, called for the couple to secure $500,000 in collateral and for the agency to possibly move into first position after the business has operated for a few years. If the loan option is approved, the Courtneys would receive a $100,000 predevelopment loan for permitting and architectural design costs and a $1.4 million building loan, which would be dispersed as needed.
The tentatively named “Valley Bowl” (the Courtneys have asked for name suggestions on their website, syvbowl.com) would cost no more than $4 million to purchase the land and build the alley, which would be secured with the RDA infusion that would guarantee backing from private investors for the remainder. The loan would be paid back at market-rate interest within 10 years.
The proposed family-oriented business would be located on a 1.5-acre vacant lot next to the Shell gas station at 90 E. Highway 246 and will offer 16 lanes of bowling, a video arcade, pool tables, a party room, food and a beer and wine area.
On their website, the couple explains why a bowling alley in Buellton makes sense:
“We know all too well how extraordinary and difficult it is to grow up in a small community with few activities to enjoy. Now, as adults and parents, we want to give back to the community we love. The beauty, serenity and majesty of the Santa Ynez Valley needs punctuated with a little good old wholesome nightlife! And everyone from toddlers and teenagers to working stiffs and retirees can enjoy a good game of bowling.”
“It’s a safe alternative for a lot of the teenagers around town,” Ben told the Journal. “If you’re between the ages of 16 and 21, there’s nothing to do except drive out of town.” He also said the business will sponsor bowling leagues, including one in Lompoc whose members were expected to turn out in force at the April 28 meeting.
Ben and Calisse hail from the Valley and graduated from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in 1998. Ben joined the U.S. Marine Corps and attained his master’s of business degree from the University of the Pacific with a background in financial consulting. Calisse is an attorney licensed to practice law in California. The couple moved back to the area in 2007 after getting married. They currently have a 9-month-old daughter, Soraya. Ben is a member of the Santa Ynez Valley Rotary Club and president of the Buellton Chamber of Commerce.
“We want to invest in the community,” Ben stated. “We want to create something that’s going to stand the test of time and will be here when Soraya’s old enough to come back and take it over.” The Courtneys know bowling alleys aren’t big money makers, but they expect the center would turn a profit, especially because there are only two alleys in a 75-mile radius: Rancho Bowl in Santa Maria and Zodo’s Bowling & Beyond in Goleta. Ocean Lanes in Lompoc closed in May 2008. The design will be rustic yet contemporary, and will include “update-to-date, not in-your face” technology such as touch-screen pads, overhead flat-screens and state-of-the-art lighting.
“I don’t even know the hundreds of hours we’ve spent on this, doing the market research, doing all the financial analysis, figuring out how many lanes are suitable for the area, and figuring out if people even want a bowling alley,” Ben noted. “We wouldn’t have put that much time and effort into this if we didn’t believe this was perfect for the area.”