Flint, MI — Berston Field House has served as a pillar for thousands of children in the city of Flint since it opened 100 years ago.
The sports and community center sits on the corner of Saginaw Street and Pasadena Avenue and has been known to host some of the city’s most renowned athletic programming, including dance and boxing since 1923.
“I just remember, like, it giving me just so much hope, you know? Just for, like, the Flint community, and it just showed me that somebody do care about us,” Olympic gold medal boxer and Flint-native, Claressa Shields said of the facility. “We’re going to create more champions, create more, just, great people, you know, and I was a part of that.”
For Shields, who is also a mixed martial artist as well as an undefeated boxing champion, Berston is where her success story started. And with the facility’s upcoming $30 million renovation, she said she hopes the upgrades will ensure it can be the same launchpad for Flint’s next generation of young people.
Berston’s Interim Executive Director Valorie Horton said at an Oct. 25, 2023 groundbreaking ceremony that the new Berston Field House facility will have a wide variety of new features.
With a 57,000-square-foot addition, there will be a new “state-of-the-art” gymnasium, complete with high-quality basketball courts and an elevated track, according to Horton. The facility will also feature dedicated spaces for a boxing gym, art and music rooms, dance studios, a bike room, locker rooms, and a community room.
Atop the building renovations, recently-acquired land surrounding Berston will have all-new outdoor basketball courts; pickleball courts; softball diamonds; a soccer, football, and lacrosse field; an amphitheater for outdoor concerts and performances; a splash pad; a playground and more parking.
The renovations will be substantial for the century-old facility, Horton told Flint Beat, noting that its last renovation was in 2016 when a computer room was added in the basement.
Horton also said the first phase of renovation, which includes the new building and upgraded outdoor amenities, is expected to be completed in 18 months, or roughly by April 2025.
The second phase of the build will be done a year after the first phase is completed, she explained, and will include the renovations of the facility’s current building, which sits at 3300 N Saginaw St. This phase will upgrade both of Berston’s current gymnasiums and its conference room.
The overall renovation project is expected to cost $30 million, but Horton estimates that they raised nearly $14 million for the renovations. But, a promised match from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation could raise the total amount of funds altogether.
During the groundbreaking ceremony, C.S. Mott Foundation President and CEO Ridgway White announced that the Mott Foundation would be pledging to match contributions dollar-for-dollar up to $5 million for the project.
“Today represents a dream coming to reality, but today is mixed with excitement as well as sadness. BB’s [Bryant Nolden] not here today to see the start of these renovations, but all of us who are gathered here today are working and helping to see his legacy live on,” White said, acknowledging the death of Berston’s former executive director earlier this year.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who attended the groundbreaking, mentioned that she would work on ways the state could help see Mott’s promised funds realized.
“I guess I’ve got to talk with our legislature to talk about what we might be able to do to help ensure we get all $5 million from Mott,” Whitmer said.
Following White’s announcement, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said he would be drafting a resolution to send to city council to give another $1 million for the renovations from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
“We have a duty and responsibility to these young people and to this community,” Neeley said.
The promised ARPA resolution was introduced to Flint City Council at a special meeting on Oct. 26, 2023. However, council did not vote on the matter before losing quorum.
If passed, the funds will add to previously allocated dollars from both the city and Mott Foundation, as council voted to approve a $10 million grant from the Mott Foundation for the project in November 2022, and $1.5 million in ARPA funding during the same meeting.
In an emailed statement on Nov. 9, Neeley explained the decision to give more ARPA dollars to Berston by noting the opportunity for those funds to multiply.
“Berston Field House has been a powerhouse of community engagement and athletic achievement for 100 years, and it’s important for us to continue to support the renovation and expansion of this city-owned facility to secure Berston’s legacy for generations to come,” the mayor said. “Thanks to matching funds from the Mott Foundation, we have the opportunity to double the impact of ARPA of dollars for this historic community center.”
Back at the groundbreaking event, Whitmer told Flint Beat that the project is important for Flint because it helps young people get mentorship and find opportunities for growth.
“I mean, this is where Claressa Shields learned to throw her first punches, and now she’s on the international stage making all of Michigan proud,” she said. “It’s investments like this that build community and create opportunity.”
Jackie Johnson, who has been taking line dancing classes at Berston Field House for about five years now, said that while she has fun in the current space, she is also looking forward to the new facility.
“I’m looking forward for the gym,” she explained. “I’m looking forward for the dance classes, I’m looking forward for the children to have somewhere to go, and they don’t have to worry about being in the streets.”
DeWaun Robinson teaches leadership to middle schoolers at the Flint Cultural Center Academy. He brought his students to the Oct. 25 groundbreaking ceremony, saying it was important for them to witness such an investment.
“I really want them to be a part of it,” he told Flint Beat, while groups of students swirled around him, taking videos on their smartphones of the event. “We need to see this, especially our young people it’s important that they see this and be a part of it so they know they have a place in this community.”
He said most of his students live in the area surrounding Berston Field House, which is why he decided to bring them to the ceremony.