A faded yellow building that once housed the Oak Bluffs laundromat may become the future site of a bowling alley.
Reid (Sam) Dunn, the architect who developed the Tisbury Marketplace in Vineyard Haven, presented a preliminary proposal to open a bowling alley, restaurant and bar on Uncas avenue to the town selectmen Tuesday.
“This is totally informational,” Mr. Dunn said. “We wanted to let you know that the project is in the works.”
Mr. Dunn described his two-story planned family bowling center as a bright place with lanes, pool tables, a restaurant, bar and a game room upstairs. The game room would feature what Mr. Dunn called “wholesome games,” like ping pong and shuffleboard, not video games. He said he planned to hang photographs by local artists or historic photographs of the town on the outside of the building facing the A Gallery.
“We hope to make it a place that’s more Vineyard-centric, and that will also be true on the menu,” he said.
The project would still need approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, among an assortment of permitting and licensing hurdles before it could become reality — likely a two-year process.
At the meeting, Mr. Dunn tested the likelihood of winning approval from the selectmen for a liquor license, the first major hurdle in his project. “No one is going to build this building unless they know they can have a liquor license,” he told the board.
Selectmen said they would need more information, such as operating hours, capacity and seating arrangements.
Selectman Gail Barmakian expressed concerns about parking and locating a business that serves alcohol service in a site so close to a residential neighborhood. “Really it looks more like a sports bar with bowling alleys on the side,” she said. Mr. Dunn said he wasn’t ready to specify business hours. “We have a very long way to go here,” he said. “This is a totally preliminary plan, and all of these questions will be addressed as we go along . . . I wanted to let you know that this is percolating.”
The building has no septic system capability and there is no sewer, so plans would include composting toilets, Mr. Dunn said.
Several decades have passed since bowling was available in Oak Bluffs. In the 1960s, there were two bowling alleys: one in the current Sovereign Bank building, and another at the Sand Bar. The most recent bowling alley was located on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven but closed in the early 1980s. “There wasn’t enough interest in bowling,” proprietor Al Brickman said in February of 1981 after converting his facility into a roller skating parlor.
Two people spoke in favor of Mr. Dunn’s project at the meeting.
“I just want to say, that building has been empty and an eyesore for so long, and whatever it takes to put something positive in there, whatever the process is to make it work and have it fitted to the community, and the residents around there are happy with it, I am all for it,” said Oak Bluffs Association executive director Christine Todd.
Finance committee chairman Steve Auerbach also voiced support. “It has been so gross for so long, and here is an opportunity to make it first rate and add to the town’s business climate. We should look forward to cooperating and going ahead with this,” he said.
Selectman Michael Santoro marveled at Mr. Dunn’s willingness to take on difficult construction projects.
“Mr. Dunn, I have to ask you, are you crazy after what you went through with the Tisbury Marketplace at the commission? You are ready to do that again?” Mr. Santoro asked.
“You know, some people just like to flagellate themselves,” Mr. Dunn said, laughing.
“You know I’m only kidding,” Mr. Santoro said.
Selectmen also heard a request from Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV), to contribute $27,000 in town funds to help keep the organization going after this academic year.
Between 2008 and 2012, enrollment at the community education school increased by 92 per cent. Executive director Lynn Ditchfield said her limited staff cannot accommodate the program needs without additional funds. She will seek a total of $110,000 from all the towns this fall. “We won’t continue without the support of the towns, it’s really that simple,” Mrs. Ditchfield said.
Selectmen praised the adult education program but said they didn’t believe it was legal for the town to give money to a nonprofit organization. And even if it was legal, selectmen said they weren’t sure the town could afford it. Selectman Gregory Coogan noted that the town had already cut funding for the elementary school in recent years.
“We don’t have a lot of money lying around,” he said.
Mr. Santoro wondered if ACE had considered increasing enrollment fees to cover administrative costs.
“We do not have students that can pay,” Ms. Ditchfield said. “I feel horrible, to be honest, charging what we have to charge.”
Ms. Barmakian suggested that ACE approach the school superintendent to ask to be included into the school system’s budget, like the Nantucket Community School, also an adult education program. She said the towns could fund the program indirectly through the school district’s budget.
“It’s certainly a valuable service, it really is,” Ms. Barmakian said.
ACE will appeal to the other Island towns in the coming months.
In other business, selectmen said a bylaw at the November special town meeting that would regulate blight in the business districts will be withdrawn on the town meeting floor. Town administrator Robert Whritenour said he’d like to see more input from property owners and community members. “I think it’s been a real positive source of discussion in the community and we want to keep it that way,” he said.
Selectmen plan to bring the bylaw before voters at the April annual town meeting instead.