Eastview Recreation Center reopens to the public


The Eastview Recreation Center, which had been closed to the public for almost 10 years, reopened the first week of April under the management of St. Paul Urban Tennis, also known as SPUT.

Eastview Recreation Center was used as a private boxing and weightlifting club for a number of years while it was closed to the public. The clubs left at the end of 2016 and the City of St. Paul spent a few months repainting and replacing gym tiles before SPUT moved in.

SPUT and St. Paul Parks and Recreation will hold open gym hours nearly every day, including Saturdays.

Equipment for St. Paul Urban Tennis is often donated by places like Michael Lynne’s Tennis Shop in Minneapolis, making it so participants in the program can get shoes and tennis rackets for free.

Center was closed for nearly a decade​

After closing almost 10 years ago, the Eastview Recreation Center is reopening to the public under the management of St. Paul Urban Tennis, commonly referred to as SPUT.

The recreation center, located at 1675 E. Fifth St., officially reopened the first week of April and will have programming from SPUT and St. Paul Parks and Recreation. One of the most notable changes will be the inclusion of Saturday hours. 

SPUT, a nonprofit established in 1991, provides tennis and education programming for people ages 4-24 in St. Paul. It also partners with the City of St. Paul, Ramsey County and St. Paul Public Schools to provide leadership, character development, educational and recreational programming. 

Reopening the recreation center had been a major goal of St. Paul City Council member Jane Prince, who represents Ward 7.

“This was one of my top priorities, since joining the council a year ago January, to get the Eastview rec center back open and to have more safe places for kids to engage with caring adults,” Prince said of the city-owned facility.

Closures and changes

Built in 1957, Eastview closed in 2008 due to budget constraints. Following its closure to the public, the facility was used for a number of years by private boxing and weightlifting clubs.

It closed around a time when the East Side saw a number of smaller recreation centers, including those at Highwood Hills, Conway and at Margaret Park, shutting their doors or being torn down. The city faced a limited Parks and Recreation budget and decided to use the limited resources to support programming at larger recreation centers.

The recreation center located in Margaret Park was torn down in 2012. The park was scheduled to have a permanent bathroom facility constructed and receive field improvements in 2016, but the work was postponed to 2017. The Highwood Hills Recreation Center now houses Highwood Hills Elementary School. 

Similar to Eastview, Conway reopened to the public in late 2013 under the management of the Sanneh Foundation, a nonprofit that uses soccer as a way to connect with underserved, urban youth.

SPUT has an agreement with the city to use Eastview for five years with the ability to extend the agreement for additional years depending on the amount of money the organization invests in the facility. In addition, SPUT will set aside $5,000 each year into a separate account dedicated to building maintenance, utilities and other costs related to maintaining the building. 

Prince said she’s found that managing recreation centers through nonprofits is a way to get the centers back and open for public use.

“It’s a way for nonprofits to find great facilities for their programming and a way for the city to be offering activities,” Prince said, “because we just are not going to have the budgets to be able to staff all the small rec centers.”

 

‘A natural partnership’

Prior to the move to Eastview, SPUT offices were located at Griggs Playground in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood. However, it already had been storing equipment at Eastview Recreation Center for years.

Becky Cantellano, who has been the executive director of SPUT for five years, said staff members were often driving back and forth across the city to get equipment, bringing it to various tennis courts, all while also having to staff the office, which became a hassle.

“This is the first time we have not only storage and office space, but also program space in one spot.” Cantellano said. “It’s amazing, we’re really excited about it.”

She said the organization was looking for a facility with outdoor tennis courts on site as well as an indoor space that could have a court set up. It was also looking for a site that would be more easily accessible by bus, and for a location on the East Side, because many of the youth the organization works with are from the area.

Cantellano said the proximity to Harding High School, just a few blocks west of Eastview, was also attractive, as the high school has one of the most extensive tennis programs in the city. Harding’s tennis team will be using the Eastview courts this spring while its courts are being renovated.

“We run the City of St. Paul’s tennis program so it’s kind of a natural partnership that we would be one of the partners managing a building,” Cantellano said.

SPUT does more than teach kids how to play tennis. It has a summer reading program, a teen leadership program and employs local high school students and youth involved in St. Paul’s Right Track employment program. 

Josephine Geiger, an Eastview neighbor who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years, said she and her neighbors are excited to have an organization like SPUT move in.

“I think it’s a great thing having the tennis program and having an active presence that’s going to be there on a daily basis,” said Geiger, adding it will be great to have access to the gym once again. 

Geiger helps to organize an informal neighborhood social that takes place on the last Wednesday of each month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Eastview. She said anyone, not just Eastview neighbors, are welcome to attend and it’s a chance for neighbors to get to know each other. It may also be a way for neighbors to influence upcoming improvements to rec center. 

 

More programming, more amenities

SPUT and St. Paul will both have open gym hours that are free of charge. Right now, the schedule for this spring and summer has SPUT hosting an open gym from 3 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. St. Paul Parks and Recreation will have staff at the center for open gym on Wednesdays from 5 to 8 p.m., Fridays 3 to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

SPUT will hold traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office hours on most days and visitors are welcome to come in and use the restroom and drinking fountains during those times. 

Right now, there are two tennis courts, four baseball fields and an outdoor basketball court beyond the indoor gym. Cantellano said SPUT is fundraising to build six more courts where the two northern baseball fields are located. The organization is also bidding out to have the current courts fixed, including the basketball court, and is looking for ideas from the community on how to do it.

There is also the question of what to do with the mural on the south side of the building. No decision has been made yet on whether to touch-up the current mural, or to paint a new one. 

Cantellano said she is eager to work with neighbors. She said she’s hoping some neighbors will step forward to organize leagues based at Eastview. Fields can be rented by calling 651-222-2879. SPUT is also organizing its annual picnic for Friday, July 28, to which all neighbors are invited. 

Geiger said she doesn’t like to focus too much on crime or negative things happening in her neighborhood. However, she said she remembers her child playing at Eastview and coming back talking about “big boys that talk mean,” and thinks new managment at rec center will move things in the right direction.

“I think long term it’s going to make a huge difference in how the neighbors and the neighborhood uses the park, and responds to the park, and basically neighborhood policing of the park,” Geiger said. 

For more information about SPUT or to contact them, visit their website at www.urbantennis.org or call 651-222-2879

 

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

 

 

 

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