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Shake and Bake Family Fun Center to close for major repairs

From left, William Moore III, Onysiah Ferguson, and Jaden Williams grab free loaner skates for patrons during first summer youth "Pop Up" event, skate night, at Shake & Bake Family Fun Center in June.
From left, William Moore III, Onysiah Ferguson, and Jaden Williams grab free loaner skates for patrons during first summer youth "Pop Up" event, skate night, at Shake & Bake Family Fun Center in June.(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The Shake and Bake Family Fun Center, a skating rink and bowling alley that has operated for more than three decades in Baltimore's Upton neighborhood, is temporarily closing as the city performs major repairs at the facility.

Paul Taylor, the city's director of minority- and women-owned business development, said Baltimore officials plan to canvass surrounding neighborhoods to see what kind of programming residents want at the site when the facility reopens.

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City officials gave no timetable for when the center would reopen.

"The mayor and I did a walking tour of Pennsylvania Avenue, and we stopped in at Shake and Bake," Taylor said. "We recognized there needed to be some upgrades. The building is very old, and we thought it best to shutter it for some time and make a major investment there. We're looking at what kind of robust programming can we bring to Shake and Bake."

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Upgrades are to the heating and air-conditioning system, kitchen area, and railings, Taylor said. The cost of the repairs and the length of time the facility will be closed are unknown, he said.

"We need to really bring this building up to where we thought it needed to be," he said. "The mayor didn't do this without thinking it through. This is about enhancing the programming for the community."

City Councilman Eric T. Costello, who represents the area, said he plans to press the administration to make sure the upgrades are done as quickly as possible.

A final event before the closure is scheduled from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, where children will get free school supplies, haircuts and manicures.

"I'm looking forward to working with the mayor to make sure those those upgrades happen as expeditiously as possible so it can go back to being an amenity to the community," Costello said.

The Upton neighborhood has more children than most Baltimore neighborhoods, and nearly half of them live in poverty, according to city Health Department statistics.

"When it reopens, our goal is to relaunch with sound infrastructure and robust recreational programming for all ages," Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday. "[It] is an iconic gathering place for Baltimore youth and families, and with much needed upgrades, it will be able to serve residents for many more years to come."

Wanda Best, director of the Upton Planning Council, said she's planning a community meeting in October to discuss the center.

"I'm glad they're going to do the upgrades," she said. "Of course it's a community benefit, but I think they [the children] prefer to have air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter."

Founded by former Baltimore Colt Glenn "Shake and Bake" Doughty in 1983, the center features 40 bowling lanes and a disco roller skating rink. It has encountered financial troubles over the years but has repeatedly recovered and has served more than 1 million people.

Doughty did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Now owned by the city and operated by a private vendor, Anthony Williams Sr.'s Kingdom Managed Inc., the facility also offers poetry slams and Zumba classes, among other activities. Williams' five-year contract to operate the center expired last year, but Taylor said the city allowed him to continue running the center until the need for major repairs became clear.

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Williams also rents the center to private parties, which pay between $99 and $350. The center has hosted events that include amateur boxing matches and a concert by rapper Gucci Mane in 2013.

Williams was not immediately available for comment.

Williams had spent much of his adult life working at the center. He began as a ticket-taker in 1985, shortly before the city assumed ownership. He worked his way up to become the site's head mechanic and eventually manager.

"Anthony Williams has done decades of service for the community," Costello said.

Doughty opened the center as a private enterprise but sold it to the city in 1985 after falling behind on payments on a $4 million loan from city officials. The city removed Doughty's nickname from the center's title, officially calling it the Baltimore Neighborhood Recreation Facility. But residents still called it Shake and Bake, and the old name was later restored.

The city, despite early success in turning the center around financially, eventually faced difficulties, too. From 1995 to 1998, the center lost $1.6 million.

Amid those troubles, city officials moved to privatize the center in 1999, retaining ownership but giving operating powers to Baltimore City Skating, an affiliate of Ohio-based United Skates of America. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's transition team in 2010 recommended seeking greater efficiencies at the site, and in 2011 the Board of Estimates awarded the five-year operating contract to Williams' firm.

When the site reopens, Taylor said it's possible the city will operate the facility or solicit bids for a new contractor.

UPDATES:

Aug. 23: This story was updated to include a statement from Mayor Catherine Pugh.

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