- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) - Fitness and weddings might seem like an unlikely pairing. But for Garden Grove Event Center, located off East Walnut Street in Carbondale, the two work together beautifully.

The multi-purpose facility, formerly named Sports Blast, is the home of Warehouse: The Ultimate Gym, along with three indoor reception venues and three outdoor ceremony spaces.

Over the years, the business has undergone several transformations, said general manager Melissa Ray Roach.

“The first wedding we ever did, there were actually batting cages in the center of the parking lot,” Roach said.

That was in 2012, when Garden Grove put on 18 weddings. This year, they’re on track to do 100, thanks to their newly built venue, the Courtyard, which is the largest dedicated outdoor wedding venue in about a 200-mile radius, Roach said. Couples planning smaller weddings can opt for the Loft & Terrace, which accommodates 150, or the Wedding Garden, which holds 250.

The Courtyard’s corresponding indoor reception space doubles as a tennis court. The idea for the combination space came to Roach when she and her colleagues were putting on an offsite, 350-person wedding at the Southern Illinois University Arena.

“Tennis season runs the opposite of wedding season. . After doing that, I’m like, we have this space - we can transition it. We can do weddings here,” she said.

She and her team decided to give the space a face-lift. The major renovations, completed in October 2016, allow for a seamless transition: staff members pull back the tennis nets, place a wooden dance floor on top of the court, drop down a chandelier and pull back the curtains to reveal a stunning view of the courtyard outside.

Since then, they’ve held three weddings in that space.

“The first weekend we opened, we were getting ready to do rehearsal and they were putting the outlet covers on. It was down to the wire, but we got finished just in time,” Roach said.

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Roach, who also teaches spin classes at the gym, said she’s never heard of another venue that combines fitness and special events, but that the arrangement makes more sense than one might think.

“We’ve tried a little bit of everything, and what we realized is that we’re good at helping people,” Roach said. “Here at this gym, people need a community, and they need that guidance. Same thing with our couples - they need help to get through that planning process, they’ve never planned a wedding before, and the amount of stress and anxiety that they feel when they’re coming in here - I’ve had people break out in hives just talking about it. So when you break it down for them and you truly help people, and that’s your main purpose, that’s one thing that we’ve found, is that you take care of people, and it works.”

Roach, who handles consultations with couples and sees them through the planning process, said gym members sometimes decide to get married at the event center - or couples will get married and then join the gym. So far she hasn’t had any couples who have met at the gym, but it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

“We’re waiting,” she said.

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Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/2kUer8i

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com


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