Hillsboro holds special meeting to determine future of bowling alley

Clint Siebel (left, standing) presents a history of the Bluejay Lanes to the Hillsboro City Council and the public at a special meeting on Monday, May 13 at the bowling alley. The meeting was held to gather community input on the city’s role in the alley’s ownership and operations.

The Hillsboro City Council held a special meeting on Monday, May 13 at Bluejay Lanes (121 S Main). The purpose of the special meeting was to gather community input on the city’s role in Bluejay Lanes ownership and operations. Mayor Lou Thurston, Hillsboro City Administrator Matt Stiles and several council members were on hand to hear from the public.

Bluejay Lanes General Manager Clint Seibel opened up the meeting and shared about how the bowling alley runs and its financial situation.

He informed attendees that Hillsboro’s Trail Lanes Bowling Alley was established in 1962 by local Hillsboro business owners, Ray and Betty Funk along with Art and Harriett Suderman. During that era, bowling was very popular and bowling leagues would run two sessions per night to keep up with the demand.

In 2012 a group of concerned citizens facilitated by Seibel, then Executive Director of the Hillsboro Development Corporation (HDC), met on a regular basis to discuss ways to find safe places for the youth of our community to interact without having to travel out of town.

“The idea to purchase the local bowling alley to operate as a Youth/Bowling Center was birthed. In February of 2013 HDC entered into an agreement with the Ray Funk Trust to purchase Trail Lanes,” said Seibel.

He explained that the original purchase was made possible by a generous donation along with additional funding from HDC. However, in order for the new owner to receive a certificate of occupancy certain requirements including handicaps bathrooms, wheel chair lift and other infrastructure improvements had to be made nearly doubling the investment.

“At that time, Tabor College was in the beginning stages of developing an intercollegiate bowling program and was enthusiastically supportive of the proposed plans to remodel. Along with an Economic Development Grant and many local contributors, Tabor made a substantial financial commitment to complete the remodeling which including naming rights; thus the name change to Tabor College Bluejay Lanes,” said Seibel.

Even though Tabor’s bowling program ceased to exist after a couple of years, Tabor has continued to support Bluejay Lanes providing a local recreational outlet for their students. Siebel said that Bluejay Lanes has become a place where people from around the county come together for fun and recreation. Some of the most popular events include birthday parties, church youth group parties, USD 410 P.E. Classes, Junior High Bowling Club, Monday Night Adult League, public bowling on weekends during the school year and scheduled parties throughout the year.

There have been many improvements and upgrades made over the past 10 years including a new state of the art automated scoring system with overhead TV monitors, sanding and refinishing the approach and bowling lanes, cosmic lighting and sound, large screen TVs and new heating and air conditioning units. They have also resurfaced the roof with a 10-year guarantee.

“Because of management efforts and community support, Bluejay Lanes is debt free. Our local management team has attended several seminars and has gained enough experience to nearly eliminate the need for outside mechanics,” said Seibel.

Seibel ended his sharing of the bowling alley’s history by pointing out that over the past 10 years, Bluejay Lanes has successfully operated on the philosophy of being a recreation center keeping the cost affordable for the community.

HDC approached the city earlier in the year about potentially taking ownership of the alley. HDC has owned it for the last 11 years with Seibel running it.

“Clint wants to retire and HDC is interested in finding a new owner. HDC showed the alley to a few different private buyers, but the financial history shows that it does not generate the type of profits a private buyer would need to justify the purchase. The bowling alley generates the revenue to pay for itself but does not generate a large profit. HDC really wants to ensure that it stays open and an asset in the community,” said Stiles.

Stiles explained that the main option would be for the city to own the alley and run the programming through the rec department.

“We’d look at partnerships with Tabor to use the Center for Entrepreneurship or maybe something with USD 410. We got some ideas on how to use the facility a little differently. The goal would be to maintain what’s in place and potentially expand the offerings where it makes sense,” said Stiles.

Thurston added, “We believe the Bluejay Lanes are an important community asset that we don’t want to lose. We believe that the City of Hillsboro can successfully operate the alley under our Recreation Department using current bowling alley staff and augmenting with existing City Staff. Operations currently cover costs, so there would not be any real immediate burden on the taxpayers, but there is no doubt that at some future date, tax funds will be required for maintenance or operational upgrades. We don’t know what that looks like today, but we want to hear from citizens to know their thoughts.”

The Mayor and Council are still interested in what the public thinks about the idea. Anyone is welcome to call city hall at 620-947-3162 or email Matt Stiles at mstiles@cityofhillsboro.net.

“I appreciate Clint Seibel and all the Bluejay Lanes team over years that have kept our bowling alley open. It’s now time for a new chapter and we want to make sure our community is firmly behind this strategy as we move forward,” said Thurston.