Sports of Sorts
Ten years of Fairfield’s Sportsplex
Competitive adult climbing teams practice at Rock Climb Fairfield, one of the most popular spots in the Sportsplex.
When Hal Fischel of Fischel Properties, a successful CT-based commercial real estate developer set out to buy at auction the 120,000 square foot former rubber factory complex at Mill Plain Road, he planned to make it into a retail shopping mall. “But then I read the fine print,” explains Fischel, an older gentleman with more energy than people half his age. The sprawling collection of buildings was zoned only for businesses like storage and medical, but also for food and recreation. Fischel’s dilemma was short-lived, and he turned this campus of buildings into Fairfield’s popular Sportsplex. “I turned lemons into lemonade,” jokes Fischel.
Most of us know the Sportsplex well; we have dropped our children off at birthday parties, taken ice skating lessons, tried out a hot yoga class, or popped into The Stand for a smoothie. Bur what we don’t all know is that it is a space that is always evolving, thanks to its forward-thinking landlord. “While we are nearly 100 percent occupied, we are always refurbishing spaces and finding room to add new tenants that complement the offerings here,” explains Fischel.
As you drive through, the larger ones from Rock Climb Fairfield to The Field House, Double Up Dance Studio and GCA, are all visible, but inside there are other businesses with compelling offerings—some are new and some have had a quiet following for years.
Barerfoot Living Arts is a holistic health center, run by naturopathic physician Dr. Mark Romano. “We wanted to create a place where people could come to find inner peace—and sustainable healthcare,” explains Dr. Romano. At BLA, Dr. Romano and his colleagues see individual patients and also have group sessions. There is craniosacral massage, acupuncture, qigong, even an addiction support group called “Refuge to Recovery.” BLA’s clients range in age from 21 to over age 75.
That’s something that Fischel emphasizes when talking about Sportsplex. He sees it as a place with something engaging for the whole family—grandparents included. Coming soon is a Westport-based ballroom dance studio where Fischel recently took lessons for his wedding. “I felt it would be a terrific addition to offer tradtional ballroom dancing,” says Fischel. Another new business—Elliptica—the first of its kind in the country—recently opened. With a model similar to spinning, it’s a dynamic workout with a group on elliptical machines instead of bikes.
William Noha, director of The Field House, where 250-300 kids go weekly to hone their lacrosse skills, likes the way The Field House connects to the community. “We work with Fairfield Ludlowe’s lacrosse coaches, so young kids learning here can grow and develop the skills needed to play on the high school teams.” While The Field House mainly caters to kids, Noha says a new sporting activity is quickly gaining in popularity— the competitive Connecticut Corn Hole League, made up of 60 adults who meet every Monday to practice for tournaments around the state. “It’s started out as a lighthearted thing and now it’s morphed into something serious,” Noha says.
Long before it was the Sportsplex, it was the DuPont/Fairprene factory—founded in 1879—which made carriage accessories and once was Fairfield’s largest employer.
The plant closed in 2003 and was vacant for years until Fairfield Parks and Recreation turned one of the Fairprene buildings into its offices and rec center. Fischel bought the rest in 2007 and got to work renovating. “We had to make the spaces livable and enjoyable for businesses and restaurants,” explains Fischel.
Speaking of restaurants, in addition to Local and The Stand, Sportsplex fans are eagerly anticipating the opening of the Candlewood Market this winter. A Brookfield based coffee roaster, they will serve breakfast, lunch, grab-and-go snacks, nitro cold brew, nitro tea, and kombucha in a 2800-square foot space near The Field House. “I can’t wait to be able to get breakfast!” says Noha.