Farms officials approve the pitch for indoor sports lab

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 21, 2016

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS — His family is synonymous with professional sports in Detroit, and now Grosse Pointer Atanas Ilitch could be helping the next generation of young athletes reach that echelon themselves.

Ilitch plans to transform the former home of Thomas Hardware Co., at 18680 Mack Ave., into an indoor youth sports lab. His parents, Mike and Marian Ilitch, own the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers.

Architect David Louis Barcyzs, president of Birmingham-based Niagara Murano, said that the facility would be designed for baseball — it would feature two indoor batting cages — but could also be used for a range of sports training because the batting cage netting could be removed to make room for drills, football passes and the like. 

“Grosse Pointe has a tremendous legacy of promoting youth sports,” Ilitch said after the meeting. “They have a tremendous baseball legacy here. … (This facility would) give kids an opportunity in the winter months to improve their skills and have fun.”

They aren’t increasing the footprint, but Barcyzs said they do need to raise the roof somewhat — by about 7 feet — to accommodate batting and hitting activities. The roof would shift from the current flat style to a gable style with brick parapet screening, Farms officials said. The interior of the building would be demolished to build a pair of batting/pitching cages, a waiting area and a refreshments area.

At press time, Ilitch said the working name for the business was the Youth Sports Performance Lab, but that could change before they open. 

“It looks like a nice project, but I’m concerned about parking,” said Farms resident Andy Dervan, noting the proximity to the post office, restaurants and other businesses with high parking demand.

Public Service Director Terry Brennan said there should be more than enough parking to accommodate this use.

“The existing (business use) had already (called for) 21 spaces,” he said of the former retail occupant. Brennan said the indoor baseball facility is anticipating a demand for eight parking spaces, and with on-street parking they have 21 spaces.

City Councilman Louis Theros said he has coached Little League, so he’s familiar with these types of facilities. He feels there would be more than enough parking spaces available for the new use.

“The parents love nothing more than to drop (the kids) off and leave,” Theros said. “I think even eight (spaces) is impossibly high” for what they’ll use.

During a meeting Sept. 12, the Farms City Council unanimously approved a site plan for the new business. Ilitch said they hope to start work soon.

City officials seemed pleased with the concept.

“It seems like a wonderful project,” Councilman Martin West said.

As Mayor James Farquhar noted, it fits in well with improvements currently going on at nearby Kerby Field that have been undertaken by Grosse Pointe Farms-City Little League, which plays there.

“I think you guys are doing a great job in promoting baseball and youth sports,” Farquhar told Ilitch and his architect. “It’s all about the kids.”

Ilitch, one of the supporters of the Little League improvements at Kerby Field, has watched as his own kids have gone through the program and blossomed from that experience.

“I fell in love with it,” he said of Little League, which he’s coached for the last 10 years. “It’s great for the kids.”

As Ilitch noted, Little League isn’t just about playing sports — it’s about making friends, promoting good citizenship and enriching the community.

“I think it’s just a great asset for our community,” he said.

Ilitch said they hope to open the facility in the first part of 2017.

The building’s former occupant, Thomas Hardware Co., has since moved to 15001 Charlevoix St. in Grosse Pointe Park.