A Place to Play, a Place to Celebrate
Thirteen years ago, Janice and Jim Sullivan, proprietors of what was then Sullivan Kitchen and Bath on Park Avenue in Corning, started thinking ahead to retirement. They had a beautiful showroom filled with high-end model kitchens and luxurious bathroom layouts and acres of wooded land behind it, but they thought something was missing.
So they cleared land, moved a creek, brought in sixty tons of fill, hired a designer of interesting mini golf courses, and added their own hard work and creativity. The result was an exceptionally beautiful eighteen-hole miniature golf course set off with fountains and a waterfall spilling blue water, a stream, and unique landscaping that includes specimen bushes, flowering trees, and irises once grown by Janice’s father. Walking the course, everything beyond fades away except the scent of the flowers and the sound of the water.
Each hole presents its own challenge, from banked courses and boulders to sand and water traps. The golf balls float, so they’re easily retrieved. The final hole is a fifty-foot shot—those who get it on the first try win a free soft-serve ice cream in the clubhouse, where a menu of 100 flavors, plus other snack foods, tempts everyone.
The golf course was fun, but it seemed lonely. So they added a driving range, batting cages, “water wars” (where participants can launch water balloons so they’ll burst over opponents’ heads), a bungee, trampoline, and rock-climbing wall, and a military-style laser tag arena. “The idea was a retirement thing, but it ended up as a little bit more,” Jim says with humorous understatement.
“We’re both detail people,” Janice says. “But Jim’s a very good contractor, he can do anything. So any work that has to be done, he’s doing it or planning it.”
The active entertainment venue—the Park Ave Sports Center—caught on as a good way for large corporate and business groups to relax and enjoy a team-building excursion and an enjoyable way for folks of all ages to celebrate birthdays. “It just sort of evolved,” Janice says.
For some occasions, the Sullivans would put up a few tents and hire a caterer, so a gathering could begin with a nice meal, then progress to outdoor activities.
“Then we thought, we can do this!” Janice says. So she got licensed by the state and began doing the catering in-house with her sister, good friends, and family recipes for comfort food like pulled pork, beef brisket, and her mother’s mac-and-cheese. It works well and smoothly for this family business, with each member contributing their strengths.
For instance, Maureen Herrington, Janice’s sister, is the genius behind the banquet decorations and also likes styling food platters. “She always says you eat with your eyes,” Janice says. Their mother, Pat Herrington, enthusiastically keeps the books, because she’s always worked and doesn’t like not working.
Almost-like-family Kyle Neilson is a key employee who runs the laser tag feature, bartends for events, and helps Janice with management. “Those loose ends that I just can’t get to—well, Kyle takes care of them for me,” Janice says.
Longtime family friend Diane O’Brien also does a little of everything, frequently behind the scenes in the kitchen; as does Janice, who works with customers to plan events, greets people, then works alongside the others to keep the party going. “I’ll pick up dishes, do whatever it takes,” she says. Unable to simply walk past things that have to be done, “I’ll work just like everybody else does.
“We are very blessed with employees,” she adds.
Jim built the large commercial kitchen attached to what was the kitchen and bath showroom—which he also built. With the decision to close down that part of the business, he remodeled it into a banquet hall—The Center on Park Avenue—currently large enough for more than 120 people. It’s about to more than double in capacity, as they’ve just sold their last custom kitchen and last bathroom set. When these go to their new homes, Jim is prepared for more remodeling to extend the banquet facilities into the rest of the space.
The laser-tag feature is one of the jewels of the operation. Up to thirty-two people can organize themselves into two opposing teams and play at once. “It’s like a live action video game,” Jim explains. “The equipment is high tech and keeps track of every ‘kill.’ You can go online and see how you’re doing and compare it with anyone else in the world doing this.” Speakers in the field provide sound effects when combatants call in air strikes or helicopter support. There are hiding points and sniper towers. And, just as in a video game, if a combatant is, uh, exterminated, that person can get another life and start over. “It’s kind of a rush to see thirty-two people playing,” Jim says.
There’s enough to do, and enough variety, that a couple or a family looking for spur-of-the-moment entertainment can come in and play mini golf, water wars, or enjoy the other attractions, but it’s also possible for a group of up to 400 people to eat lunch together, then go on to have an active afternoon where just about everyone can try just about everything. And it’s not just corporate groups—it’s also anniversary parties, wedding rehearsal dinners, weddings, family reunions, baby and wedding showers, retirement celebrations, and recently, an adoption party and a funeral. Not everyone wants to pause these events for a rousing game of laser tag, but if they do, rates and packages are listed at parkavesportscenter.com, where you can also find that water wars video. Or reach them at (607) 936-4820.
Customers return. One couple who had their wedding shower here said they had such a good time they hoped to come back soon—and they did, this past winter, for their baby shower. “I didn’t think we’d be back this soon!” the wife remarked. You can find information on The Center at thecenteronparkave.com or (607) 962-7485.
The best part? Janice says it’s this: “We’re involved with people—some of them we’ve just met—in the important parts of their lives. Some of those are the biggest days of their lives, whether those are beginnings or endings.