The Shake and Bake Family Fun Center on the city's west side, founded in 1983 by a former Baltimore Colt, has overcome financial problems to become a vital asset to the community. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltlimore Sun)
The operator of Baltimore's Shake and Bake Family Fun Center says city officials are unfairly forcing him out as they close down the facility for repairs.
Anthony Williams Sr., who has worked at the popular skating rink and bowling alley for decades in various capacities, said in an interview that he disagrees with the city's decision to close down the facility while repairs are done. He said he believes parts could remain open, and children in the neighborhood will suffer as a result of the temporary closure.
"They are going to suffer. We're getting ready to go into our fall season," he said. "This is the season for … roller skating. Where are they going to go? This has been my baby for 30 years."
Baltimore officials said this week they were closing the center indefinitely for repairs to the heating and air-conditioning systems, among other work. City officials would give no timetable for when the center would reopen.
When the site reopens, officials said, it's possible the city will operate the facility or solicit bids for a new contractor.
Paul Taylor, the city's director of minority- and women-owned business development, said the decision to temporarily close the facility was not about Williams personally.
"Anthony has been great over there," he said. "At this point, though, we have to look out for the health and safety of the kids in the community. Ultimately, the issue is when we walked through the building and saw safety concerns, we have to address those."
Williams said he has sunk a lot of money over the years into repairs at the building, which is owned by the city. He said he feels that city officials are blaming him for the site's condition, rather than themselves.
"I spent all my money trying to fix a city building that was already in terrible condition," Williams said. "For the last three winters, I had to go up on the roof five times a week because the heat would stop operating."
Williams said revenue at the facility dropped drastically after the rioting in 2015 that followed the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained in police custody. Members of a Zumba class stopped coming to the site, and customers started going to competitors.
"I wished they would have talked with me more and listened to my story," Williams said of the city. "They're making it seem like this facility is this way because of [his firm] Kingdom Management. This facility was in poor condition before we came in."
Mayor Catherine Pugh said she did a walk-through at the facility in June and decided a change was needed.
"Seventy percent of the [bowling] lanes don't work," she said. "The roof is about to fall in. There are not enough skates for the children. We want to enhance the facility and make it available to the community in a more positive way."
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 recovered repeatedly and served more than 1 million people.
The facility also hosts many events, including the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy earlier this month.
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Williams' company's five-year contract to operate the center expired last year, but the city allowed him to continue running the facility.
Williams has 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.
"Young and old, they call me Mr. Anthony," he said. "I've watched generations come through. Now we're going to have 18 middle and high school students unemployed. It's just unfair. Take me out of the equation. It's bigger than me. OK, you don't want Kingdom Management here, fine. But I don't think it's wise to not have someone in here who's done everything over a 30-year period."
A final event at the facility before the closure is scheduled from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, where children will get free school supplies, haircuts and manicures.