UW Health Sports Factory: a smile for a planned dream come true

By Frank Schier 
Editor & Publisher 

Don’t tell me the Park District doesn’t plan and doesn’t see the future clearly and inclusively.

The turnout and all the partners for the opening of the mammoth UW Health Sports Factory was wonderful, as was the dedication ceremony, as is the very extensive 108,000 square-foot facility itself. You really must visit to realize how big and cool our new treasure on the Rock River is. The many partners in the 2010 Reclaiming First should be so proud for provided a wonderful June 1 and future feature for the entire Rockford area.

“Did you know that June 1 was Tim Dimke’s 10th anniversary as the executive director of the Rockford Park District?” Webbs Norman asked me at his home the following Friday. “I retired on May 31 and Tim took over the next day.” Norman, former executive director of our parks, first worked for the district as a college student and seasonal employee in 1955.

Rockford Park District Director Tim Dimke has a light moment during last week’s ceremony to open the new UW Health Sports Factory.
Rockford Park District Director Tim Dimke has a light moment during last week’s ceremony to open the new UW Health Sports Factory.

Dimke has been working for the park district for 43 years, and Norman started his formal tenure in 1972. He is so proud of Tim Dimke; he coached him. Norman’s health would not allow him to attend the opening, but he watched it by video link. He had  complete admiration for Dimke when I spoke to him.

In his usual humble way, Dimke did not mention that it was also his diamond anniversary at the opening of the UW Sport Factory. This gem-like approach is typical of the spirit of the Park District. Everyone else was put first. With good reason, better partnerships cannot be found. Many times over the past few years, Dimke was always touting to me personally,  “Reclaiming First.” I remember him saying, “Reclaiming First really has it right with it’s funding; it’s from local and state grants and hotel taxes. What great partners we have.” The $24.4 million facility is only part of a the $54 million capital project that also includes expansion of Sportscore II near Interstate 90. For more go to reclaimingfirst.org.

I was skeptical; but they delivered – big time. The 14 volley ball nets and 14 basketball hoops that swing down from the ceiling are very impressive. When they are up, “impressive” is the word for the space available for convention businesses. Oh, there’s 16 wrestling mats and 42 pickleball courts, too. Oh, then there’s the new restaurant coming from Prairie Street Brewery and the 442 parking spaces.

If you don’t believe all this is big time, go get a smile from the huge basket ball hoop at the south end of the extensive new river walk and deck.

Justin Fern of Urban Equity Properties takes in last week's open ceremonies at the UW Health Sports Factory.
Justin Fern of Urban Equity Properties takes in last week’s open ceremonies at the UW Health Sports Factory.

The City of Rockford and Rockford Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau were among the other leaders in attaining the property and bringing the UW Health Sports Factory to the heart of the community. Mayor Larry Morrissey and RACVB’s Director John Groh and board should be praised.

I hear more than 300 days of the first year are already booked. They are conservatively predicting $8.4 million will come into the area annually.

Even “Mr. Serious” Justin Fern of Urban Equities was grinning ear to ear on June 1. When I sent him a photo of himself, with the title “Justin Fern actually smiling,” he e-mailed back, “That’s when you know it’s a big day!”

Rockford area, I think we have many “big days” to come. Celebrate and smile yourselves.

You’ll smile again when you hear the big things happening, brought to you by the Rock River Trail. More next week.

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