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Local lanes bowled over by redevelopment

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Local lanes bowled over by redevelopment

BY DAVID OVALLE AND DICK EVANS

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The fellas and the ladies in leagues like the Cloverrollers, well, they remember when there was still a dance club and live bands. When they were younger, they'd go midnight bowling. Now, it's called rave bowling and has neon lights.

Barflies used to pack the Cloverleaf Lanes' smoky, wood-paneled bar. Now, it's just gruff old Dave Cleveland and Jim Janke, and they haven't bowled in years.

''Our wives think we pretty much live here,'' Cleveland says, tossing back a Bud.

A North Miami-Dade institution since 1958, Cloverleaf Lanes is being sold because, as President Doug Romanik said, ''the real estate is worth more than the business.'' Romanik and his partners are asking $4.5 million for the 4.1 acres and don't expect it to remain a bowling center.

Another landmark bowling emporium, Don Carter Kendall Lanes, has announced it will close in the next few months. A three-story, 160,000-square-foot office and retail complex is planned on the 6.5 acre tract.

Their passing would leave only four bowling centers in Miami-Dade County: Bird Bowl, Piper Lanes, Homestead Bowling Center and Strike Miami, which does not feature league play. The soon-to-be opened Lucky Strike in Miami Beach likely will not have leagues, either.

That stands as a stark contrast to the early 1980s, when there were at least 17 centers from Homestead to North Dade, places such as Hialeah Lanes (a strip mall now) and Bowl-O-Mat (now a photo center). Against the backdrop of fluid demographics and countless choices, of Internet and satellite TV, nightclub after nightclub, mall after mall, the likely closing of Cloverleaf and Don Carter more than anything underscores the loss of community identity that bowling centers once fostered.

''I feel like I'm at home here,'' says Marlene Powell, who has been bowling in leagues at Cloverleaf for three decades. ``But people just don't go out like they used to. They put their kids in front of a video or a computer. They don't mingle.''

By some measures, bowling appears as popular as ever. Between 55 million and 70 million people ages 6 and older bowled at least one game in 2003, the last year for which figures were available, according to several industry studies. But bowling centers and regular bowlers have been vanishing.

In 1963, there were 11,000 league-sanctioned bowling centers, according to the United States Bowling Congress, the sport's governing body in the United States. Today, there are about 5,700, plus a few hundred more centers that do not feature league bowling.

After World War II, alleys with names like Miami Recreation Lanes and The Lounge were clustered around downtown Miami. They soon gave way to the larger centers boasting air conditioning, automatic pin setters and expanded restaurants.

''It was a great social situation,'' said Phillip ''Flip'' Schemer, president of the Greater Miami Bowling Association, who has been bowling here for 43 years. `` It was a good place to meet people and spend a nice evening. It still is -- there's just not as many people.''

CHANGES MADE

Over the years, bowling centers have adapted to changing lifestyles and demographics. By 2001, Don Carter Kendall Lanes had added neon lights and a salsa night to woo the area's Hispanic population. But recreational bowlers don't spend money the way league bowlers do.

In the early 1980s, there were more than 35,000 league bowlers in Miami-Dade County. Today, there are only about 4,000.

Leagues can't be found at Strike Miami, a snazzy, neon-purple tinted bowling center in West Miami-Dade's Dolphin Mall. Here, teenagers and couples eat shrimp fettuccini and listen to rock and hip-hop. On a recent Friday night, the place was packed.

But casual bowler Jose Morales, 29, seemed less than enthusiastic at the prospect of ever joining a league. He didn't grow up a bowler.

''My parents were born in Cuba,'' he said, smiling. ``They didn't bowl too often.''

With so many options for entertainment, people no longer want to commit to 36-week league schedules, said Mark Miller, a spokesman for the Bowling Congress.

As a sport and pastime, bowling holds a special place in American society.

Other participatory sports are dominated by certain groups. Tennis or golf players usually belong to a higher economic class, says Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor who wrote Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

But bowling is ''the most democratic of American sports,'' he said in a phone interview. ``It's the only sport I know, statistically speaking, that is as common among blacks as it is whites, people with college degrees or high school dropouts.''

Back at the Cloverleaf, at least on a recent Tuesday night, statistics and demographics didn't matter.

Against the endless pop of pins crashing, the Cloverrollers were at it again. Their kids scampered from the video games to the air hockey table.

Where they will bowl if and when Cloverleaf closes is uncertain.

The league is a mix of white, black and Hispanic, older and newer bowlers.

One old-timer, Ron Norman, 69, who has two artificial hips, a bum right knee and a cleanshaven head, bowls with the help of a cane. ''I feel like crap when I'm not bowling,'' he says.

The Cloverleaf would be the fifth center Norman has bowled at regularly to close.

Down a few lanes, gregarious Joyce Williams -- her bowling nickname: Sweet Cocoa -- dries her hands with rosin, cleans her ball with a rag and stands cocked and ready. Fuzzy black and gray balls dangle from her white sneaker-like bowling shoes.

TEAM PLAYERS

Her team calls itself the Heartbreakers. Four men and Sweet Cocoa.

''I get sad when I leave and I don't see them for another week,'' she says.

With a smooth stride and a quick flick of the wrist, Williams rolls her ball down the lane. Ten pins stand. Then 10 pins fall. Strike!

''Woo-hoo!'' she yells, adding some wigglage of the booty. ``Choo-choo!''

Everyone around her smiles.

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That sucks big ones.

Bowling is fun,(when you're winning.)

But its still fun.

That sucks 'cause I like bowling,but there's limited places to go bowling.Last time I was searching for one,I had to go ( from Hialeah) to Bird Bowl.

Not that far,but it would be better if there were more,and closer.

I think they should build a bowling alley in downtown.I would go.

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Yeah, I think this sucks, but it might be financially viable at some point to include a bowling alley in a new development. The bowling alleys were always packed when I was in school down there, I don't know how the market will absorb these losses... I used to bowl at Don Carters Kendall all the time. I can't imagine how the land in far west BFE Kendall could be so valuable, but that's Miami real estate for ya...

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