BILLINGS — The Billings Sports Plex was purchased by a local Billings couple and will be converted into a family fun center.
Lava Island is a Colorado-based franchise that boasts family fun through its indoor trampoline park, playground and restaurant business model.
James and Miranda Duncan moved to Billings from Colorado with their two children five and a half years ago.
"Something that we love about Billings is the summertime. But something that we struggle with, especially having kiddos, is the winters," explains Miranda Duncan. "They’re longer, and the days are shorter, and by March or so I think everybody is climbing the walls ready to get back outside."
In October of 2021, the Duncans then 9-year-old son, Nathan, was diagnosed with AML leukemia. The family spent much of their time in Denver, Colorado, while Nathan received chemotherapy treatment at the children's hospital.
“We have our daughter, Joslyn, who of course can’t go into the hospital because it’s still premium COVID time, so we needed to have something to do," explains James Duncan. "We ended up being blessed with learning about (Lava Island), and it very quickly progressed."
Nathan is now fully recovered, after a bone marrow transplant from his sister, Joslyn, and extensive chemotherapy.
But the Duncans fell in love with Lava Island, and after seeing the Billings Sports Plex at 5000 Southgate Dr. for sale, decided to bring it to Billings.
“It’s wonderful to know that there are blessings in the trials and tragedies, and we count this as absolutely one of those. We’re thrilled to have a physical, tangible manifestation of all of the things we have worked to accomplish,” Miranda explains.
The Duncans plan to have Lava Island open in the spring of 2023. They will be hiring around 20-30 employees, and say those interested can sign up for progress updates on their website.
The main focus of the center is to provide a fun, indoor environment for all ages to come and spend time together.
The Duncans say they are working to make Lava Island Billings a place you can go anytime, regardless of the occasion.
And for out-of-town visitors, the Duncans hope they will be considered as a stop in Billings.
“Our aim is to keep the price point very reasonable so that the whole family can come and it doesn’t have to be, we’re going to Billings, and this is the one thing that we’re doing," Miranda says. "We want it to be part of the Billings destination for those that live outside of town."
Lava Island also offers party packages, which James says are a major highlight of their business model.
"That is something that we currently do not have here (in Billings), the private party rooms. These are themed out party rooms, and they’re pretty impressive,” James says. “For an 8-year-old to walk into a room that’s painted like a princess's castle, and to have it private, this is your room for an hour to do your own party and invite your friends. That’s where the specialty comes in. Where you can treat your child and their friends to something that they haven’t seen, especially up here."
Miranda adds that the party packages make planning much simpler, and it pays off.
"The kid feels like a million bucks, and when the kid feels like a million bucks you can see it in the parent's eyes," Miranda says. ”When you really nail it, you know it, and the parents are like, I did that, you know? And we want to give that to the parents, but we also want to be a part of that. We love watching the kids just feel like they’re living their best lives."
The Duncans sent out a press release announcing the purchase and plans on Tuesday. Miranda says that they have received a few responses expressing sadness for the loss of the sports plex.
But Miranda understands where they are coming from, and says although Billings is losing the facility, anyone can come and burn energy at their new center.
“I feel like this is a good halfway between that. We don’t want to eliminate sports, we just want the ability to get some active play going," Miranda explains. "You can still have something to do that’s fun and still active."
While the Duncans will be managing the center, all operations will be overseen by the company in Colorado, owned by Celeste Henderson and her family.
Henderson is the owner and founder of Lava Island, and her daughter, Whitney Bullough, is the events manager.
Bullough explains that she is overjoyed a family like the Duncans are managing this location.
“They leave a little touch of magic, when you finish talking with them, you just feel so happy,” Bullough explains. "They're just really great people."
“Lava Island targets a little bit younger demographic than a lot of other trampoline parks. We are toddlers to 12, but it’s also a place for parents to kick off their shoes and play too,” Henderson explains. “Knowing how important it is for families to have a place to go together, that’s what drives us is the family time component."
Henderson, Bullough, and the Duncan family would like to emphasize that this is a family-owned and operated business, and their focus is to create a unique experience for everyone to enjoy, regardless of the occasion.
“It doesn’t matter how broad your family is, this place is perfect for everyone. And that’s really what we want to do,” James says. "We are excited for what this will bring to Billings and surrounding communities."
For more information on Lava Island in Billings, please click here.