Where most Fairfield residents saw an old rubber factory situated next to the railroad tracks, developer Hal Fischel saw an opportunity.
Over the last seven years, Fischel, through his development corporation Fischel Properties, turned the old DuPont rubber plant on Mill Plain Road from a decaying reminder of the industrial past into a modern multisport facility called Sportsplex@Fairfield. The development has 12 different facilities for sports and athletics, as well as a restaurant, a juice bar and several nonsports tenants.
The renewal of the property began when Fischel purchased it in 2007, but it took several years of work before the facility was ready to start soliciting tenants.
“It took major rehab, major. That took some years,” Fischel said of the complex. “There was an 80-foot smokestack; there was a huge water tower. Where the restaurant is now, which has 60-foot ceilings, there were giant boilers that filled the whole building.”
It wasn’t easy, Fischel said. The property had to be repaved, portions of buildings had to be structurally modified or rebuilt completely and high-volume air conditioning and modern electrical systems needed to be installed.
“Millions,” Fischel said when asked to estimate the cost of renovations. “And it’s far more complicated than building new, because you have to remove the old and figure out how to fit in the new.”
Fischel decided to turn the property, which is zoned for industrial use, into a multisport facility after looking over what types of businesses would be allowed to operate there.
“We went down the list of what’s allowed and many of the things would never have paid off, like warehousing and storage and veterinary centers,” Fischel said. “So the only things that really appealed to us were indoor recreation and restaurants.”
After securing its first tenant, the Gymnastics and Cheerleading Academy of Connecticut, Fischel Properties was able to build upon the concept and secure more athletic occupants.
“The fact is that athletic collaboration just works,” said Fischel, who noted that the variety of activities caters to the interest of kids. “Sometimes the siblings come here; one wants to go fencing, another wants to go rock climbing.”
For Ben Kelly, who owns CrossFit gym BK Athletics at the Sportsplex, moving to the complex was an easy decision. He previously operated in a 500-square-foot facility nearby, but when he heard about the Fischel’s idea for the property, he moved quickly to secure a location.
“Expontentially,” Kelly said of how beneficial it is to BK Athletics to be at the multisport facility. “Because of the traffic that comes through here, for one, but the gymnastics at the end especially. We have a great synergy with them because their manager trains here, all their staff train here, and what we do in regard to strength and conditioning, the emphasis on gymnastics is so important.”
In addition to Kelly’s CrossFit gym, the 130,000-square-foot complex features a fencing gym, a taekwondo academy, a hot yoga studio, a field house for lacrosse, soccer and similar activities, a rock climbing facility, an art studio and a tutoring center.
Once school lets out for the day, Sportsplex is abuzz with activity.
“What doesn’t go on here?” asked Vanessa Valentino, an instructor at the Gymnastics and Cheerleading Academy of Connecticut. “We have gymnastics, dance, parkour, martial arts, tricking and free running. It’s like the gym that never sleeps.”
“It’s a unique concept and the fact that it’s just off I-95 and half a block to the Post Road are advantages,” Fischel said. “We have adequate parking and most of the tenants have expanded since they first moved in here. We have 18 tenants here now and after a few years the place is finally fully occupied.”