Go-Kart track/entertainment center planned next to drive-in

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Former Mountain Mini Storage owner Tom Churches has a dream: to make the Lake Region area a family destination. And he’d like to break ground by Nov. 1.

At next Tuesday’s Bridgton Planning Board meeting, he’ll unveil his plans to build a $3 million, state-of-the-art go-kart track and family entertainment center on four acres of vacant land next to the Bridgton Drive-In at 383 Portland Road. The project, to be done in three phases, envisions a Phase One development of four retail spaces totaling 4,200 square feet fronting the highway, and an 800 foot go-kart track in the back, backing up to Home Run Road.

Churches said he has a firm tenant for one of the four retail spaces, which he declined to name. His new business, The Shipping Store, currently located on Portland Road, will occupy a second retail space.

By 2012, after the commercial spaces and track are built, Churches envisions adding a 125-foot x 200-foot indoor, year-round family entertainment center between the stores and the track — after first adding an outdoor volleyball court, a modern version of bumper cars called “Spin Zone,” and a sling-shot-get-wet attraction called “Balloon Battles.”

It’s a dream that’s been two years in the making. Over that period, he and his girlfriend Molly Brand have traveled to four international family entertainment center conferences throughout the country, including Chicago, Ill., Tennessee and Orlando, Fla., doing research and planning for the Bridgton project.

“I gave up a profitable business at Mountain Mini Storage to do this,” said Churches, who last month sold the self-storage company he founded 10 years ago on the Harrison Road. “It’s going to work, and a lot of people are going to be happy.” He has been talking to several banks and is confident he can secure financing for the project, on land he has agreed to buy from developer Mark Lopez of M.L. Investments Inc.

Churches said the Class A paved go-kart track would have 20 “eco-friendly” electric karts whose noise level is “no louder than a hair dryer,” not counting the “chirping” sound the tires sometimes make on tight turns. He said the electric karts are so new, his project would be the first in the country to have them. The lighting for the go-cart track will all be in-track, he said, and low-shielded, and designed low enough to the ground so as not to interfere with the operation of the drive-in. Proposed hours at the go-kart track would be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the peak season months of June, July and August, Churches said.

The high-tech karts will attract go-kart fans from a wide area, and eventually even go-kart circuits could be formed, he said. “I want this to be a destination point for the town of Bridgton,” he said. “I want the town of Bridgton to come alive again.”

Bridgton Drive-In owner John Tevanian has major concerns about the project’s impact on his business, especially the potential for having too much light and noise serve as a detriment to the movie experience. In a letter to the editor in this week’s Bridgton News, Tevanian expressed frustration that Churches was “unwilling to commit to specific noise/light restrictions.”

Churches said the drive-in “emits 10 times more light than I am going to put out,” and said he believes his project will benefit the 55-year-old drive-in by bringing in more business. “Everything I do, I do first class,” he said, pointing to the extensive landscaping around Mountain Mini-Storage. “John’s drive-in is going to be a complement to this.”

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