Boca Raton’s one and only bowling alley has a target on it.
Earlier this month, the City Council heard a proposal that would flatten the 33-year-old Boca landmark, at 21046 Commercial Trail, now called Strikes @Boca and put 649 apartments there, in addition to 12,000 square feet of retail and 13,600 square feet of restaurant space. The proposal also includes two parking structures.
An attorney representing the developer, CVR Realty, said it’s an idea whose time has come – providing housing for the workforce that powers nearby businesses, such as the Town Center Mall at Boca Raton.
“We are, in all honesty, a community that demands and expects a lot of services,” said Charles Siemon, a development lawyer, told the City Council earlier this month. “The people who provide those services can’t afford to live in our community.”
But bowlers were shocked to hear the bowling center, where the steady hum of rolling balls is punctuated by crashing pins, could be facing extinction.
“This is our social place where we have friends and family to have fun together,” said Alex Gonzalez, 38, of Boca. The mortgage broker was there Thursday bowling with his brother, father and grandfather.
Bowling centers and alleys are quickly disappearing from the American landscape. The U.S. Bowling Congress counted 4,666 certified bowling centers this year, down from the 1966 peak, when there were 11,476.
But Ronnie Belletieri, who owns Strikes @Boca, said he’s been hearing the redevelopment talk for seven years, ever since he bought the center that includes 64 lanes, a bar, a game room and a restaurant. Although, he acknowledged, this is the first real proposal to come along since the real estate implosion, when many property owners found themselves underwater with their mortgages.
“Everyone wants to redevelop this property,” he said.
But attoney Siemon said plans are rolling along. Currently he’s answering questions that the city has about his proposal, which could mean 63 to 83 units per acre in the area.
At a workshop earlier this month, City Council members said they liked the idea — in spite of a recommendation against it by city planners.
“The project itself is good here,” said City Councilman Mike Mullaugh. “It solves a very real problem we have here.”
But it would mean that all the Boca high schools with bowling teams would have to find a new lanes for their try-outs and home competitions. Also, some 3,000 league bowlers now call the center home, Belletieri said. Last week, Boca Helping Hands had a fundraiser there that raised $15,000 and brought in 200 children and 100 adults.
“It’s a Boca institution,” said James Gavrilos, executive director of Boca Helping Hands. “It not only a fun place to go for the family, but Ronnie has been a great community partner.”