Tucked behind a log-cabin-style tavern and a Mail Boxes Etc., the former Bright Wood mill building has had more reincarnations than Michael Jordan's pro sports career. The complex of buildings tucked between Century Drive and Columbia Street began as a toy factory, manufacturing those rubber-band-powered, balsa-wood airplanes before China got dibs on those kinds of dollar-store novelties. For the last two decades it served as a specialty mill, manufacturing molding for windows and doors. So when the latest tenant, Madras-based Bright Wood industries decided to consolidate its operations in Jefferson County, owner Dave Hill came up with a novel idea.
The parent of a high-school tennis player, Hill broached the idea of installing a few tennis courts in the main building of the mill complex with local tennis pro Bob Harrington, who happens to coach Hill's daughter at Summit High School. They knew they were onto something when they decided to pace out the dimensions of the building. It turned out that the structure could almost perfectly accommodate three tennis courts. The exterior walls were far enough back to keep players from being squeezed on the baseline and the support beams for the roof were seemingly strategically spaced between the courts.
All that was required was a surface and some nets. With Harrington signed on to run the tennis programs at the facility, Hill and his wife, Judy, charged forward with a plan to repurpose the entire mill complex as a mixed-use facility with three indoor tennis courts as the center piece. After several months of work over the late fall and early winter the facility opened in early January as the West Bend Tennis Center. Tennis players, many of whom are sidelined during the long winter months because of a lack of indoor facilities, immediately took notice. (The Athletic Club of Bend and the Bend Golf and Country Club offer the only other indoor tennis courts in Bend and both are available to members and their guests only)
"The first Saturday there was nobody. A couple of people came by to take a look and this last Saturday was booked solid," said Judy Hill, who can often be found checking in customers at the tennis office and chatting with players.
The name notwithstanding, tennis isn't the only thing going on at the West Bend Tennis Center. The business also offers an open gym with drop-in basketball weekdays from 5 to 7 p.m. and between 3 and 5 p.m. on weekends. The local table tennis club has also found a home at the tennis center where it meets every Wednesday for its weekly matches.
The Hills, who are redeveloping the entire facility, have plans to relocate their Mail Boxes franchise to the complex and are mulling over a number of other possibilities, including a restaurant. The pair already have an interior design firm and a pilates business signed on, Judy Hill said. But it's the indoor tennis that is garnering the most attention. For $20 an hour hour and a half ($10 if you split the cost with your partner) and no joining fee, tennis players can walk into the West Bend Tennis Center, fill out a disclaimer and start playing in a climate-controlled environment on an eye-catching, sky-blue court painted in the style of the U.S. Open. But it's not without its quirks. Because the building was never envisioned as a tennis facility, the roof drops precariously close to the courts on either end of the facility. While it's possible to play an entire game without bringing the roof into play on those courts, it's likely that a couple of wayward shots and aggressive lobs will find their way into the rafters. There's also the issue of showers - or lack thereof.
Harrington, who has worked as a tennis pro at both Broken Top and the Bend Athletic Club, is offering several classes for aspiring and accomplished players, including some classes geared largely toward women. He's also teaching his own version of the popular Cardio Tennis program that blends tennis drills with a moderate to intense aerobic workout.
West Bend Tennis Center
1355 SW Commerce, 541-330-2112