published Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Neighbors question indoor gymnasium in historic Cleveland area

A new two-story building in a historic home district of Cleveland, Tenn., is causing concern to area residents just off Bowman Avenue near Lee University.
A new two-story building in a historic home district of Cleveland, Tenn., is causing concern to area residents just off Bowman Avenue near Lee University.
Photo by Tim Barber.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Eyebrows are being raised over an indoor basketball gym being built in a Cleveland neighborhood that helped launch the city's historic preservation movement.

Cleveland city officials have fielded complaints about a 4,844-square-foot, two-story building going up behind the Centenary Avenue home of Matthew and Tara Brown. The couple cleared away a 912-square-foot, 1930s-era house at 932 Oak St. to make way for their gym, which some local residents feel is too large and out of character with the neighborhood.

"Some people are upset about it, and others were simply wondering what process did he go through to get this approved," City Manager Janice Casteel said.

The Browns declined to comment.

City planner Corey Divel also said he's gotten calls about the gym.

"I think I had two phone calls when it first started going up," he said.

The Browns went through the necessary steps to build the gym, Divel said, including getting a certificate of appropriateness from Cleveland's seven-member Historic Preservation Commission. It approved the certificate in a 4-0 vote at its May 21 meeting, according to meeting minutes, with support from commissioners Joan Benjamin, Randy Wood, Charlotte Thorogood and Maryl Elliott.

Architect Douglas B. Caywood, who sits on the historic preservation commission and was the Browns' architect for the gym, was absent. Caywood declined to comment Friday about the issue.

Plans on file with the city show that the gym building is 18 feet tall to the eaves, where the roof begins. The basketball court is 50 feet wide, the same as a regulation NBA court, and has two nets. It will be 61 feet long, about two-thirds the length of the 94-foot-long regulation court. The new building will include a one-car garage and a kitchen.

Private gyms more popular

Matthew Brown is executive vice president of the family owned Brown Stove Works Inc. The business was founded in 1935 in Cleveland, according to the company's website, and is the only remaining privately held range manufacturer in America. The business has about 200 employees.

Private indoor gyms are catching on among the well-off, according to articles in Forbes and The Wall Street Journal.

They're not just for basketball, said Dave VanderVeen, president and founder of Chicago-based Power Court, who began building backyard courts in 1992 and has seen increased demand for indoor residential gyms.

"It's a growing trend nowadays, definitely," VanderVeen said. "It's not just for basketball. It really is the indoor play space. Kids can just as easily play soccer in them, they can play lacrosse, they can Roller Blade, they can play hockey. There's really no end to it."

VanderVeen, who isn't involved with the Browns' project, said he expects to build 15 to 20 indoor courts this year. Most of those are additions to existing homes or are built underneath homes in basements with high ceilings.

"Stand-alone, that's very unusual," VanderVeen said.

When the Cleveland City Council meets Monday night, the city manager will share the permitting documentation for the Browns' gym with council members and any members of the public who are interested.

"Any time I start getting calls from citizens, I try to make council aware," Casteel said.

The Historic Cleveland Neighborhood Association was launched in 2001 by two Centenary Avenue residents, according to its website.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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