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Amusements Aim To Keep Shoppers Shopping Longer

The place to shop also can be the place for family fun when amusements are added.

Green Valley Town Center in Henderson, Nev., knows amusements. The inventory of amusement and entertainment tenants at the open-air center runs the gamut from a brewery to miniature golf to a dancing fountain.

"There is something for someone to do all the time, from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.," says Alan Perlmutter, chief operating officer for Henderson-based American Nevada Corp., the center's owner and manager.

Specifically, the 65-acre project features: * a 137,000 sq. ft. athletic club; * Barley's Casino & Brewing Co., a casino/microbrewery operation; * Discovery Zone, a soft-play area for children; * Mountasia Family Fun Center, which has everything from miniature golf and bumper boats to an indoor roller rink and video arcade; * a computer-controlled fountain in the middle of the project; and * numerous theaters and themed restaurants.

Not all shopping centers can "do" amusements to the extent Green Valley Town Center does -- nor should they try, in many cases. The amusement mix, like the tenant mix, should reflect the center's image. Centers with a family-friendly modus operandi are prime candidates for amusements.

The amusements found most commonly in shopping centers are coin-operated games and carousels, with children's play areas gaining steam. At Lafayette Square in Indianapolis, a custom-designed carousel to fit a racing theme was added to the food court in conjunction with the center's overall renovation.

"[A carousel] is a very traditional item that appeals to children," says Jacque Ellis, marketing director for Lafayette Square. She says the trade area for the center, which is owned and managed by Simon DeBartolo Group, Indianapolis, has many young families. The presence of the carousel generates publicity for the center because it is a "little something extra," she says.

In addition to the carousel, the food court has a game room as well as a "just for kids" seating area with a number of small tables and chairs. "We wanted to make the food court a destination, and it makes sense to have [everything] together," Ellis says.

The carousel and other kiddie rides "in and of themselves, are not traffic-generators," adds Mark Lander, a regional vice president for Simon DeBartolo.

In general, these amusements can differentiate a shopping center or prolong a shopper's visit but usually fall short on the profit side. "[A carousel] is almost more of an amenity than a profit-driven amusement," remarks Mark London, senior vice president of redevelopment for Chicago-based General Growth Properties Inc. "It's a thin-margin business."

He says the carousel is not a new idea, but once one is put into a center, it is very hard to take out. The real issue, London says, is finding a suitable replacement for the space a carousel takes up -- which he says averages 1,000 sq. ft. -- that still would entertain customers and bring in more revenue for the landlord. The addition of children's play areas may hold the answer, however.

Children are the boss Although still in the "amenity" realm, children's play areas are having an effect on the bottom line. London says he has been surprised by the demand for the tenant space surrounding the play areas that General Growth continues to add to its malls. "There has been an increase in the real estate value around it [ranging from] $2 to $5 per sq. ft., which is significant," he says. In addition, he reports that sales for the impulse food tenants nearby "have gone up dramatically -- 30 to 50 percent."

London says General Growth's version of the play area is a 1,000 sq. ft. section of the common area closed off with padded seating. The play areas generally feature five to 10 play pieces, such as a frog or a castle on which children can climb or crawl. General Growth will have about 15 play areas in place by year-end, London says.

WellsPark Group's model varies a bit. The Newton, Mass.-based shopping center manager has created Kids Clubhouses in several of its centers. Ranging in size from 1,800 sq. ft. to 2,500 sq. ft., the clubhouses are located in in-line spaces but are treated as common area in that they are unsupervised. The play areas are carpeted and padded and feature a number of children's toys, jungle gyms, vehicles and tactical games. They are designed primarily for children ages 8 and under accompanied by an adult.

The Kids Clubhouse is a place where children can run off steam and parents can relax, says Adrienne Davis-Brody, senior vice president and marketing director for WellsPark Group. The clubhouse is free to visitors, she says, adding that, in exchange, families spend more time -- and money -- in the mall.

A few of the WellsPark Group clubhouses are sponsored by television and radio stations, which is a "win-win situation" for both parties, Davis-Brody says; the mall gets air time in exchange for the station's exposure at the center. The goal with all the clubhouses, she adds, is to establish a partnership with either a local television or radio station or a corporate sponsor. WellsPark currently pays for the buildout of the play areas as well as the toys and equipment.

Crown American Corp. has one play area in operation in an in-line space at West Manchester Mall in York, Pa., and it is investigating building others, according to Chris Menna, vice president of corporate communications and marketing for the Johnstown, Pa.-based shopping center owner. "Mothers and children represent an important customer base [for us]," she says, noting that tenants that cater to children also are very interested in the addition of the play areas.

The West Manchester Mall play area has a ball pit and various tunnels and slides. "It is an amenity that we provide for our customers," Menna says.

Technology rules Some amusements -- video games, simulators, laser tag and miniature golf -- go beyond being amenities. In most cases, these amusements are most profitable when they are grouped, London says. However, facilities with high-tech games have been able to draw traffic and generate revenue on their own.

"Mini-golf is not a high-demand destination itself," he says. "It needs other entertainment." General Growth does have one mini-golf operation in its portfolio at River Falls Mall in Clarksville, Ind., and it is part of a larger fun center that features several other amusements.

The conventional arcade business, which targets primarily children and teens, is "under siege," London says. Locations have begun to shrink in size due to consolidation in the industry, shrewd operators and a lack of impactive new product.

The key to profitability with video games or virtual reality games is an ongoing supply of new titles, Lander adds, and the stars in this area are the technology-focused operators. Because games can be found throughout a shopping center (a few at a movie theater, at a conventional arcade or, possibly, a GameWorks location), they can lose their effectiveness in drawing traffic if the games are not fresh.

Simulators, on the other hand, do not need constant updating by virtue of their seasonality. Simulator operators travel from city to city in order to "keep the presentation fresh," Lander says. Both Lander and London list simulators among their seasonal or specialty tenant choices. But, London adds, a stand-alone amusement could be viable in an extremely dense market such as an urban setting.

Later this month, Crown American will debut, "Wildfire Mine," a permanent simulator tenant at its Logan Valley Mall in Altoona, Pa. Although Menna could not elaborate on the attraction, she says it is the simulator company's first venture into a retail setting, and assuming it is successful, the attraction will be rolled out to other malls.

Here to stay Whether it is laser tag and mini-golf or carousels and kiddie rides, shopping center owners and managers are realizing just how important it is today to create a place for families.

In the next five to 10 years, entertainment will become an increasingly important part of the retail environment, London says. General Growth counts the growing interest in ice skating as a part of the gravitation toward amusements, as it adds ice rinks at Chapel Hills Mall in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Coral Ridge Mall in Iowa City, Iowa.

American Nevada's Perlmutter adds that the "definition [of amusements] will evolve a lot." He expects there to be new generations of video displays in public areas as there is a "desire to saturate [people's] senses." In addition, he says, there will be an increase in passive attractions such as artwork and interactive fountains as shopping center owners and managers "try to differentiate their space."

Lander of Simon DeBartolo agrees that there will be a push to use more amusements in the coming years to increase the customer's length of stay in a shopping center. His company plans to add amusements on a case-by-case basis with the goal of "matching demographics and merchandise mix."

Knowing the role amusements play in relation to other tenants is as important as knowing which types of amusements will generate the most revenue. "Tenants also have to share the vision," Perlmutter cautions, explaining that common area maintenance costs can rise when more elaborate amusements take up residence in the center.

"It all comes down to carefully picking a mix that reflects the community [the shopping center] serves," he concludes.

Allyson Sicard is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and a former managing editor of Shopping Center World.

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), Alexandria, Va., is preparing for its 79th annual convention and trade show, to be held this month in Orlando, Fla. The association is expecting thousands of visitors to attend the trade exposition and to participate in the educational tract, which includes more than 30 workshops.

The centerpiece of IAAPA '97 is Global Showcase of Fun: Exhibits, Attractions & Magic on Display. Open Nov. 19--22 at Orange County Convention Center, the trade show promises more than 1,000 exhibitors and the latest in amusement industry products, machinery, equipment and services.

Of the 23,000 attendees expected at the Global Showcase, IAAPA predicts that 27 percent will be international. As a result, interpreters will be on hand to assist at the trade show, as well as at the workshops.

The IAAPA '97 Convention Workshop Program begins Nov. 18 and runs through Nov. 22. Open to IAAPA members only, the workshops are scheduled throughout each day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Convention Center.

Topics for the workshops range from costumed characters to legal issues. They include: communications skills, crisis communications, employee relations, how entertainment generates revenue, food service and catering, games, government relations, inventory control, Internet marketing, playology, profit improvement, ride maintenance and operations, safety issues and themed entertainment trends.

In addition to the workshops, IAAPA '97 offers association members the opportunity to attend Amusement Facility Management School. The five-day (Nov. 17--22) series of workshops is designed specifically for industry managers based upon the type of facility managed: amusement park, water park or family entertainment center. Participants completing 20 hours of courses receive continuing education credit at Greenville Technical College of South Carolina.

Rounding out the educational options, IAAPA '97 is offering two new programs: Training The Trainer, an interactive program to assist managers in developing effective training techniques; and a nationally recognized Certified Pool Operators Course, developed by the National Swimming Pool Foundation. Both programs last three days (Nov. 15--17) and are open to non-members.

IAAPA is an international trade association for permanently suited amusement facilities. Its rolls comprise more than 4,500 facility, manufacturer and individual members. For additional information regarding the association or IAAPA '97, contact the association at 703-836-4800.

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