MANALAPAN — The owners of Sportika, an athletic training center on Woodward Road, Manalapan, have received municipal approval to expand the use of the building to include sports themed social events and sports tournaments.
Representatives of Field of Dreams LLC (Sportika) concluded their testimony before the Planning Board on Sept. 28 and then watched as board members voted 8-0 to approve their request for new uses at the 170,000-square-foot training center.
Sportika was represented by attorney Peter Klouser.
Sportika CEO Jeffrey Jordan said that as part of the application, an outdoor soccer field will be removed and replaced with additional parking spaces.
During the Sept. 28 meeting, several changes and clarifications regarding the application were noted by Klouser on behalf of his client.
A request by Sportika to remain open until 4 a.m. on certain dates was removed from the application, Klouser said.
The attorney made clear that while liquor would be served by outside liquor license holders during some social events, pending the board’s approval, Sportika will not be a BYOB facility at any time.
Klouser said the owners of Sportika will extend a sidewalk along Woodward Road and create a pedestrian crossing that is 600 feet from Daum Road and 1,000 feet from Route 33. In addition, he said Sportika will institute a free shuttle service for its members who live in the nearby Knob Hill residential community.
Sportika’s current hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The board agreed to permit the business to open at 5 a.m. to accommodate individuals who want to work out earlier. The applicant proposed, and the board agreed, to end all liquor service at midnight and to give guests at social events until 1 a.m. to leave the building.
During his testimony on Sept. 14, Jordan asked the board to grant permission for Sportika to bring in food from outside vendors to serve to the participants of the sports activities that are regularly held in the facility (i.e., sports tournaments).
The training center is equipped with vending machines, which Jordan said are not meeting the needs of those who use the building.
Instead, he said a situation has developed in which young people are leaving Sportika, walking across the training center’s parking lot to a Wawa convenience store next door, purchasing food and walking back to Sportika.
On Sept. 28, Jordan described plans to create a small snack bar inside the building that will be equipped with food warmers and food coolers. He said food will be brought in from outside vendors and no food will be prepared on-site. The snack bar could eliminate the issue of people leaving Sportika to obtain food, he said.
The board subsequently approved the creation of the snack bar in Sportika.
Board member Todd Brown said, “I commend you (Jordan) for being concerned with the safety of kids walking back and forth to Wawa.”
Board members asked questions about various aspects of the application, but none of the board members or the panel’s professionals raised a significant objection after Klouser described the changes that had been made since the previous meeting.
As part of the board’s approval, Sportika will now be able to promote the fact that it hosts sports tournaments. When the application was approved two years ago, representatives of the business said the facility would not host tournaments.
During his testimony, Jordan, who was not affiliated with the business at that time, said the “showcases” and “shootouts” Sportika has been holding since it opened earlier this year are in fact tournaments and the request to use that word was more of a formality.
The board agreed to allow Sportika to advertise and promote that it hosts tournaments.
And, Sportika’s operators were seeking permission to host what were referred to as sports themed catered privates parties, including bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, weddings, post-prom events and communion receptions, as well as corporate team building events at the training center.
When asked by a board member to define a sports themed party, Jordan described it as one during which a couple might want to get married in the middle of a soccer field (Sportika has an indoor turf soccer field) or one at which young guests would play basketball or participate in some other indoor athletic activity.
The board’s attorney, Ron Cucchiaro, said the board was not limiting the definition of a sports themed private event.
In discussing the application and the request to expand Sportika’s business model, Jordan said, “We have many more opportunities that come before us for our review. I do not believe there was any malicious intent (to add uses now that were not requested two years ago). There was a lack of vision at that time. I brought a new vision when I joined the organization.”
In response to a question from board member Rick Hogan, who is Manalapan’s fire official, Jordan said security officers will be present during the private events and will not permit guests to take liquor outside the building or to wander around the parking areas.
Following the testimony, questions and comments, board member Alan Ginsberg made a motion to grant approval to the Sportika application, with the changes noted that evening.
A snack bar, catered affairs, liquor service during certain events and a regular midnight closing time will now be permitted at the facility.
Board Chairwoman Kathryn Kwaak and board members Barry Jacobson, Deputy Mayor Jack McNaboe, John Castronovo, Daria D’Agostino, Brown, Hogan and Ginsberg voted yes on the motion to grant approval.
The applicant will have to return with a complete design for the additional parking area before final approval for that aspect of the plan is granted.