Twenty-six years into owning Arizona Sunrays gymnastics and dance center in Phoenix, Dan and Julie Witenstein are finishing up the biggest construction project of their lives.
Just north of Greenway Road on 32nd Street sits their new facility, a sprawling 34,000-square-foot modern concrete-block building that is light-filled and energy efficient. It features high (18- to 24-foot) ceilings and state-of-the-art gymnastics equipment, dance studios and an expanded active preschool.
The Witensteins and their 60 employees will celebrate with a grand opening this month that showcases many new amenities: a coffee and snack bar, ample viewing areas for parents including large-screen TVs for observing classes, a gift shop and a 10,000-square-foot fenced-in courtyard shaded (eventually) by citrus trees. With more space, they will offer more classes, including aerial arts, acrobatic gymnastics and dance/gymnastics combo classes.
This project was years in the making. One hurdle was finding the right site in their current neighborhood. They finally found it on an abandoned-looking four-acre former eyesore they had driven by for three decades — one mile north of their 32nd and Thunderbird gym. Construction started in January.
“If we’re going to keep doing this, we want to do it right,” Julie explained, adding they had long dreamed about how they would have designed their original gym differently. Dan, a college gymnast and former assistant women’s gymnastics coach at Arizona State University, became head coach and manager of a private Phoenix gym in 1987; in 1990, the Witensteins bought that business rather than see it close.
Since then, Arizona Sunrays has grown — from about 300 original students to more than 2,000 kids (babies to teens) per week in all of its programs: competitive and recreational gymnastics; dance, yoga, and Ninja Zone classes; year-round day camps, Kids Night Out events and more.
In 2003, they rented an additional 4,000 square-foot space for their dance program around the corner from the 19,000 square-foot gym. Housing both programs in the same building and getting to design every detail — down to a one-of-a-kind air filtration system to reduce the amount of gymnastics chalk in the air — made the construction project enticing.
During a summer hard-hat tour, Julie also mentioned the appeal of creating a comfortable, welcoming space for staff, students and families. “Our confidence in our staff and the tremendous job they do is what gave us the courage to move forward with this dream adventure,” she added.
“This is something we didn’t have to do; we really wanted to do,” Julie said, adding their 22-year-old son, a recent college grad, and their 20-year-old twin daughters in college all support the project. “We’re making good use of our empty-nest time.”
Visit Arizona Sunrays new gymnastics and dance facility from 3-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23 and try free gymnastics, dance, aerial arts or Ninja Zone classes.
The first 200 attendees will receive special swag bags. Visitors can try food samples from the new snack bar and get facility tours. The drop-in event includes raffle prizes and giveaways. 15801 N. 32nd St. Phoenix. 602-992-5790 or arizonasunrays.com