What Does It Take to Train Olympians?


Building a home for future Olympians isn’t easy.

Just ask the Witensteins of Arizona Sunrays, and the architects of their latest facility, Diane and Michael Jacobs of Holly Street Studio. The over-25-year-old studio trains gymnasts, dancers, and those simply looking for a workout, so when their operations continued to expand beyond existent capacity, they knew they had to think big.

It’s been a longtime dream [to build this out]! We wanted to offer a safe, beautiful environment for kids and parents to enjoy, with all the training tools to allow our athletes to excel.
— Julie Witenstein

Arizona Sunrays built its foundation in north Phoenix, and looked to its own backyard for guidance on how to expand but remain true to their community. Existing relationships proved to get the ball rolling on this major new project.

“The Witensteins have been a part of our lives for over two decades; we raised our children together and shared the joys and challenges of that as well as growing businesses from the ground up. They are like family. When Dan and Julie approached us, it was more to offer advice about the big project ahead, but  we all soon realized that our dreams are parallel, we can help one another in ways far beyond the traditional architect-client relationship. That is Holly Street’s MO, but, for this one, even more so,” explained Diane Jacobs of the couples' long history.

And thus, a collaboration was born. Holly Street Studio was given a beautifully-sited space near a mountain in north Phoenix, and built a ground-up new facility, specifically to meet the needs of Arizona Sunrays, rather than the adapted offices and stripmalls that had been their standard for decades.

“Designing a custom space has enabled us to make our families even more comfortable—lobby seating, outdoor seating, viewing from our mezzanine, more parking, and of course a café!,” Dan Witenstein added of the specific benefits that have come from the custom buildout.

The new facility, in turn, has allowed Arizona Sunrays to expand its programming in an active preschool, café/lounge space, a so-called “SUPERCAMP,” and staff daycare, to provide holistic engagement with their patrons’ and staff’s needs.

Of the new and expanded offerings, Arizona SunRays general manager Kenzie Gassaway added “It’s allowed us to expand how frequently each class is offered, as well as add new programs like aerial arts and a licensed preschool.”

The design itself was carefully considered--yes, they had to provide room for training, but Holly Street needed to also make room for staff, parents, and public programming. The space needed to be welcoming, and truly all-purpose.

“I would not say there were specific ‘design elements’ as much as a spirit of creating a space in line with the mission of our client. In this case - Sunrays is as much an Olympic training facility as well as a place to teach toddlers the joys of movement, play and dance. The parent component is huge as well - making a comfortable spot for the families so that is a healthy, positive, shared experience for all. Given these parameters, our ingredients were: openness, flexibility, natural light, durable finishes, vibrant color and a sense of clarity of space - knowing where to go, seeing everything from one vantage point, and having a re-assuring, yet joyful feeling upon entry, knowing that there is a place for everyone,” explained Diane Jacobs.

Altogether, Arizona Sunrays’ new building has proven a new, well-designed addition to the North 32nd Street neighborhood, continuing its growth and energy through identity development. 

“The 32nd street corridor has seen its ups and downs. The city designed these streets for efficient traffic flow and that can have an effect on the adjacent buildings in terms of storefront scale, etc.," explained Diane. 

"We were dedicated to making Sunrays have a presence in the neighborhood as a well-loved, local business would be, by putting the building up against the corner of the site, right along the street, with parking in the back, demonstrating a sense of welcome and pride both day and night.”

Both Dan and Julie were clear on the advantages of working with a truly-local firm: “We are so grateful to Holly Street! They took the time to listen not only to what we needed, but also how we wanted people to feel in the space.”

Diane elaborated, establishing that shared priorities produce the best projects: "It's important to remember that local businesses, especially family-owned businesses are a whole different ballgame from corporate, or even municipal clients. We are working with people’s dreams and helping them shape the next chapter of a vision that is truly personal, but at the same time has HUGE impact on our collective community. As local business owner’s ourselves, we understand first hand what our client’s challenges and aspirations were/are, because they are our own. We are in this together and for the long term. Knowing this in heart and mind allows us to proceed accordingly, and the benefits grow exponentially...not just to architect and client, but the greater community."

Learn more about Arizona SunRays and plan a visit to their facility here. Looking for an architect? See some of Holly Street Studio's other work around the Valley here.