By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Magazine July/Aug 2011 issue)
Fairfield, CT – A new swim facility in an unlikely space is garnering great praise from the community, which is a credit to the vision of the property manager and enthusiasm of the business owners.
Wings Over Water School of Swimming opened its doors January 2011 at 2221 Black Rock Turnpike, in the lower level of Old Navy, and has been flying high ever since. The facility, which includes a 60’ x 24’ indoor pool, highly trained aquatic educators, on-deck certified lifeguards and fully equipped changing rooms, offers learn-to-swim classes, stroke development, tri-athlete training and adaptive aquatics. It also accommodates a family swim, lap swim and birthday parties. Several hundred people have enrolled in its programming.
The business had been operating a facility in Brewster, NY since 2001, and while it had been doing very well, Kevin Flannery, general manager at the Fairfield location, said they wanted to expand the scope and began looking for a second center two years ago.
Enter Ken Kleban of Kleban Properties, a commercial property development and management firm, whose family built the Old Navy shopping center over 30 years ago and has managed it since.
“When Old Navy decided to vacate the lower level in Spring 2010 to consolidate its selling space from two levels to just the top floor, we removed the escalators and saw that it left two large pits in the floor, which immediately got me thinking of the idea of a pool-like facility,” he said. “I mentioned this to local broker Tommy Febbraio of Coldwell Banker, who was already working with Wings Over Water.”
Flannery said Kleban went to look at the Brewster locale “to see if we had a viable operation or were just fly-by-nights”, then the swim facility owners viewed the proposed Fairfield site.
“It was a huge open space,” said Flannery. “You could land five Cessnas in there. It was a clean palette that we felt we could work with.”
The parties negotiated aspects of a 10-year lease and presented a proposal to the Planning & Zoning Commission, which was greenlighted.
As Kleban developed the architectural and engineering plans, he wrangled with the “daunting” challenges of putting the pool in a retail space. Dehumidification, excavation, digging below the water line and providing a plan that was safe and welcoming for kids and families were all considerations.
“It never goes as planned,” said Kleban, reflecting on the project, “but we had a good team working on it and it progressed nicely, bringing a very needed swim facility to the area.”
Kleban said there’s a great open and airy ambiance to the site that aligns with the center’s family friendly focus, and that “feedback has been phenomenal.”
Summing up, Kleban added, “It’s not always about finding the deal that yields the most income. This deal was marginal at best in terms of profitability, in and of itself. However, we recognized the service it provides to the town and our center, which we will all benefit from for many years to come.”