Brothers Ayden Kelley, 7, (top) and Michael Kelley, 6, ride bumper cars at Jak's Warehouse in Schererville, Ind., on Feb. 23, 2013. The Kelley family spent the evening at the fun center that opened in December. | Anthony D. Alonzo~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 12, 2013 6:02AM
When the buzz of construction ended in the building adjacent to Omni Health & Fitness in Schererville in early December and Jak’s Warehouse opened for business, the talk among many fun-center fans was about how the concept got a new lease on life in the region.
Complete with ideas gleaned from recreation center conventions across the nation, Jak’s at 221 U.S. 41 provides more than 50,000 square feet of indoor activity space chock full of attractions from arcade games to Laser Tag to a Skytrail.
The focus of a three-year development process, the vacant structure owned by Franciscan Alliance was eventually found to be a match for the fun center’s build out.
“My development story from the mid-’90s was finding and meeting demand of products and services that were not in Lake and Porter counties,” said Al Krygier, a local restaurateur and partner among four Jak’s co-owners. “Kyle (Ropac, a co-owner) and I had toured the country looking at different family entertainment centers and tried to compile all the good things our area needed and put it under one roof.”
In the fall of 2007, the Schererville Golf and Fun Center, formerly located just two lots north of Jak’s, was demolished after an 18-year run. It had offered a golf driving range, miniature golf, go-karts, an arcade and party rooms. At the time, developers erected signs depicting a boutique-style mall that would be built on those grounds. Then the mortgage and financial crisis hit in 2008, and the property just off the congested section of Indianapolis Boulevard has remained a pile of gravel on weedy grounds.
The last decade has also seen the closing of the kid-favorite Celebration Station, formerly in Merrillville, and Wright’s Barnyard, an indoor-outdoor fun center that drew many Northwest Indiana residents to Lansing, Ill.
“This is all new to us, the family entertainment center business,” said Justin Tauber, 34, a Jak’s co-owner. “We’ve been open nine weeks and we’re still working the kinks out but we feel like, for the most part, things have gone pretty smoothly.”
Taking in the sights and sounds of the fun center from the mezzanine-level Forklift Restaurant, Bishop Noll classmates Melissa Alvarez, Nathan Payonk, Sam Sapyta, Mark Sullivan and Nick Thrasher discussed what attraction they would visit next.
All sophomores who got a ride from a parent, the teens said Jak’s offers something unique for their leisure time.
“What I like about this facility is there are a lot of things to do; you really can’t get bored with it,” Sapyta said. “And you can eat here, too — and it’s cheap. You can hang out here with your friends when you’re bored of movies.”
Soon the students bypassed the battery-powered go-karts and queued-up behind Sullivan, who shot hoops at the Bulls and Pacers basketball game.
The Kelley family of Cedar Lake — led by parents Jeramie and Kristin — played air hockey, helped their kids pull the lever on a slot machine-like game and eventually ended up at the bumper cars rink. Their brothers Ayden, 7, and Michael, 6, maneuvered their cars, returning the favor of each intentional collision.
Though crowded at times on weekends, the youthful staff keeps the turnstiles turning, the games working and the floors clean. Manager Carrie Clemens said Jak’s more than 75 employees are “a great staff” and help create a happy environment.
After investing “probably a lot more than people would imagine” at converting the former Blade N Skate building and Woodhollow Loft Bar & Grill into a fun center, Krygier said the owners are pleased with the results. Northwest Indiana natives Krygier, Ropac and Tauber credited the Schererville architectural branding firm Mixdesign with bringing together myriad ideas for the complex. Yet each became a “big kid” imagining what they’d want to see in the entertainment center.
For Krygier, the rafter-raising Skytrail — a harnessed walking course reaching 35 feet above the floor — is the attraction that brings the most smiles. Tauber favored a simpler game, reminiscent of good times from his childhood.
“Skeeball — I just remember as a kid always playing it,” Tauber said. “That was really my only request. I think we all added our personal touch.”