BY CRAIG COLEY
The first time Dave Weil visited the former RCA television facility at 1525 S. Rogers St. in 2009, all he saw was an abandoned warehouse “full of birds and bird poop.” Still, it was easy for the evangelist and youth pastor to imagine the 5-acre building as a recreation center, a place that would give young people alternatives to the choices he made as a teenager before finding a new direction through a Christian drug-addiction recovery program.
Today, Weil serves as executive director of The Warehouse, incorporated as a nonprofit funded by private donors. The Warehouse opened in 2014 with a skate park and a basketball court. It has since expanded to include indoor playgrounds for preschool children, an art center, rock climbing walls, an auditorium, and spaces for sports ranging from gymnastics to volleyball. All activities are free.
“One of our big values is we want to be accessible to everyone in the community, whether you have a lot of means or no means,” says operations director Nick Pridemore.
The Warehouse’s faith-based mission is neither concealed nor obtrusive. “It’s a Christian-oriented facility,” Pridemore says. “However, we expect nothing of the people who come here. What you believe matters nothing to us when you come in the door. We want you to have a safe place to come play. We’re doing this because we feel called by God to share the love of Jesus in this way. That’s it. That’s our mission.”
In winter, its busiest season, The Warehouse hosts about 400 visitors a day. From 10 a.m. to noon, parents bring young children to climb on three playground structures and two inflatable bounce houses. The larger back section is open from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays and 1 to 3 p.m. most Saturdays. The biggest draw is the skate park, which, Pridemore says, is the largest free skate park in the state and one of the largest in the Midwest.
Weil wants to expand The Warehouse’s family offerings. “We see families come here, and parents are engaged with their kids, and for me that’s the highlight,” Weil says. “I think having fun with your family is what people have lost.”
Visit btownwarehouse.com for more information.