Burnsville Center opens new playground for children with autism, special needs

Tony's Place is a gym aimed at giving children with autism and special needs a more inclusive play area. The gyms can be found at Burnsville Center and in Blaine.

One local mom has taken a vacant retail storefront and transformed it into a sprawling playground in Burnsville, Minnesota.

Tony's Place is an inclusive play space for children with special needs. The Burnsville location is the second for Wendy Leigh Morina, who opened her first gym at Northtown Mall in Blaine last year. It's another example of how smaller malls are adapting to the rapidly changing retail landscape.

Tony's Place is a gym aimed at giving children with autism and special needs a more inclusive play area. The gyms can be found at Burnsville Center and in Blaine. (FOX 9)

“Here, you come as you are, you are accepted as you are,” Wendy said.

Inspired by her 8-year-old son Tony, the gym is specifically designed for children with autism and special needs.

“I think that’s the epitome of the entire business idea... inclusion is everything,” she said.

Once a shoe store, the massive space is now filled with sensory-based play equipment and includes a wheelchair swing and a giant kangaroo jumper.

“You can be as loud and vocal about your happiness as you want to without apologizing to anybody,” Wendy said.

Having a son with autism, Wendy said that sense of freedom didn’t always come easy. 

“I felt like I was done being isolated with Tony and with his brothers, and I wanted to do something that I knew Tony liked,” she said.

In today's changing retail landscape, at Burnsville Center, a space designed with Tony in mind is a perfect fit.

“It’s amazing because [my daughter] gets to release some energy and some stress and sort of ground herself; this helps for grounding. It also helps give the parents a break,” said visitor Suzette Oltmans.

“It’s a place of love and acceptance, and I think now more than maybe ever in our society, that is a really good thing,” Wendy added.

At the cost of $12, children can use the facility for up to two hours.

Tony's Place in Burnsville, Minnesota gives children with autism and special needs a more inclusive play area. (FOX 9)