Private company will run 'Shake & Bake' rec center; City-owned operation troubled by debts


A once popular, city-owned recreation center on Baltimore's west side will soon be run by a private management company, after the bowling and roller skating hub suffered three years of deficits as high as $400,000 a year.

Baltimore City Skating, an affiliate of Ohio-based United Skates of America, will take over the Baltimore Neighborhood Recreation Facility -- popularly known as Shake & Bake -- beginning April 1 under a contract approved yesterday by the Board of Estimates.

The move to privatize the recreation center's operations occurs two months after the city and the state completed $750,000 in renovations to the facility, including 32 computerized tenpin lanes, a concession seating area and spruced-up restrooms.

City recreation and parks officials are aiming to make the recreational facility one of the East Coast's top bowling and skating centers.

"We've spent a year of very difficult negotiations," said Thomas V. Overton, director of recreation and parks. "But we've come together. We feel pretty good about this."

The center opened in 1983, as a project of former Baltimore Colts football player Glenn Doughty, who called it the Shake & Bake Family Fun Center. The city bought the center in 1985, renaming it the Baltimore Neighborhood Recreation Facility.

In 1995, the center fell into debt. Between 1995 and June 1998, the center lost $1.6 million.

Baltimore City Skating is expected to reduce the recreation center's deficit over the next five years, the first term of the contract. The city plans to renew the contract twice for one-year terms in 2004. By then, the center is expected to turn a profit.

The private Baltimore skating company was picked after several community meetings between residents, the city, state lawmakers and the contractor.

At issue was concern about the recreation center's employees and their jobs. Baltimore City Skating said it would retain all workers who want to stay and will provide training and promotion opportunities.

"It's been a long process, and to be honest with you, I'm stressed and tired," said Veronica Smith, president of the recreation center advisory board. "But it's been a good process."

Added Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke: "I think it's a win for the city."

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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