This article was written by our own Paula Klimek, and originally published in the MSCA March 2019 Newsletter.
WHAT IS NEWLY OPENED IN BLAINE, IN A REPURPOSED BIG BOX STORE (GANDER MOUNTAIN) AND A “HECK” OF A LOT OF FUN FOR BOTH KIDS AND ADULTS??? IT’S THE FUN LAB!!!
The Fun Lab is the brainchild of Jim and Marilyn Webber, who envisioned this enterprise of fun about five years ago. Located in the old Gander Mountain building right off of Central Avenue/Highway 65, with 22,000 square feet of fun, it opened for business in December 2018.
(On a personal side note, I have been to The Fun Lab four times already, and am planning my next visit. Last weekend, I brought my husband Robin and he was completely blown away at how much fun it was!)
Following are some “Fun” things to know about The Fun Lab from key players on the project, including owners Jim and Marilyn Webber; General Contractor, Steve Day; and Job Superintendent, Drew Belsaas.
—Jim & Marilyn Webber, Owners, The Fun Lab
HOW LONG WAS THIS UNIQUE IDEA IN THE MAKING?
We started coming up with ideas about five years ago and really got serious about three years ago. We decided to have a feasibility study created for the Blaine area, just to make sure our idea would work. What makes us unique is our customer service, our wide range of best attractions (all in one place) and a full restaurant that is aimed at ALL guests from the “littles” to the grandparents and offering limitless fun and great memories! We also have party rooms available for birthday parties complete with magic trick performers that are also available for Team-building Corporate Events.
TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU FOUND AND CHOSE THE LOCATION.
Our feasibility study used 109th and Hwy 65 as a center point of Blaine. We looked at several locations in and near Blaine, but many were eliminated due to size, lease rate, or ceiling height. We found one company that was going to do a build to suit where they build the building and lease it to us, but at the last moment, they changed their mind. Luckily, the Gander Mountain location became available late 2017. Our broker set up a meeting with the landlord, and after several meetings, we agreed upon a lease. We feel that the old Gander Mountain location is a good location with exposure on Hwy 65 and being close to the National Sports Center.
“REPURPOSING” OF BIG BOX STORES IS IMPORTANT IN THIS DAY AND AGE, THE FUN LAB IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF REPURPOSING A BIG BOX STORE. I REACHED OUT TO ANNA BLAKE OF COLLIERS BROKERAGE SERVICES FOR HER PERSPECTIVE
There have been a handful of factors that have led to the demise of many big box retailers, with omnichannel, consumer preferences, and overdevelopment of storefronts leading the pack, in my opinion. Many retailers analyze consumer preferences through general shopping desires; gone are the days of the massive department stores satisfying everyone’s shopping needs and desires.
Retailers are now working toward finding a balance with their brick and mortar locations since the rise of the internet. Retail shopping is at everyone’s fingertips, so shopping has become an experience for consumers—not just a chore or errand. Consumers will always want a place to see, touch, and feel the products in real life.
Retailers that struggle to evolve with consumer preferences are closing, creating big box vacancies in the market and, thus, negatively impacting vacancy rates. Big-box repurposing has created opportunities for landlords with well-positioned assets to refresh and revitalize what may have been a tired and underutilized shopping center. Innovative, new-to-market concepts in the former big-box spaces has lowered the vacancy rates, increased portfolio value for landlords, and helped to stimulate the economy.
HOW MANY ATTRACTIONS ARE THERE IN THE FUN LAB? AND WHAT WAS THE SELECTION PROCESS FOR THE ATTRACTIONS? HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHICH ATTRACTIONS TO BUILD AND TO PURCHASE AND INSTALL?
We have 8 attractions, some you may have seen before like, Laser Tag, Spin Zone Bumper Cars, Mini Bowling, and an Elevated Ropes Course, but each has their own spin, whether it’s the Black Panther themed laser tag or being able to watch people play arcade games from the rope course! The other four offer a unique experience for our guests, let us explain!
XD DARK RIDE – When you play the Dark Ride, imagine playing a call of duty type game with seven other friends! Hold on tight because you get the full 3D experience with the chairs moving along with the ride as well. Have fun shooting your choice of zombies and/or werewolves or even Mad Max along with other selections available. This ride will keep you on the edge of your seat…….Literally!!
HOLOGATE VIRTUAL REALITY – This is an awesome virtual reality experience. This is a game for all ages, you can chose from a selection of games ranging from a dance revolution like game to shooting robots, there is something for everyone!
LASER MAZE – If you’ve ever wondered how the robbers in movies get through those lasers in the bank vaults, well you are in luck! The laser maze allows you to try and avoid lasers that crisscross throughout the room. Try making it to the other side without hitting the laser. If sounding the alarms is more your speed, you may like beam breaker, which allows you to run through the space breaking as many laser beams as possible in a minute!
BALLOCITY – If you want to just sit back and let the kids run, ballocity is the spot to be. Let your kids run around on this 3-level jungle gym. Shoot foam balls out of cannons at each other and go down multiple slides. They can do all this while you sit back and have a snack from the cafe and enjoy a cold beverage. Whether it be pop, beer or wine!!!
We also have about 45 arcade games. Our consultant was very helpful in deciding which attractions we should have in our facility. We went to several conventions and saw the attractions first hand. From there, we picked our favorites and then did a market analysis of which attractions might do well in our area. We wanted something unique and fun for the entire family.
Our consultant, Jerry Merola of AEM, has many connections in the family entertainment business, and he helped us narrow down which vendors would be the best to work with and have the best equipment. Some attractions, like in Laser Tag, we actually used 3 different vendors: one for the steel mezzanine, one for the arena/ painting, and one for the laser tag vests.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF THE PROJECT AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
Finding a location and a landlord that would work with us was the toughest, since the family entertainment center business is new to us. Financing was probably the second hardest to come up with for the same reason as above. Lastly, the red tape of getting proper permits/licenses.
DO YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE A PERSONAL FAVORITE ATTRACTION? IF SO, WHICH ONE.
Our favorite attractions would be the Trio Tech XD Dark Ride and the Hologate virtual reality. These attractions offer a 3-D experience where you feel like you are really in whatever visually is on the screen. We’ve had people fall over, crouch down & simulate all kinds of actions, again, because the visual experience is so compelling!
—Steve Day, Owner, Sullivan Day Construction, General Contractor for The Fun Lab
WITH LOTS OF DEVELOPMENT HAPPENING IN BLAINE, TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE PERMITTING PROCESS FOR THIS PROJECT, WITH ALL OF THE MISCELLANEOUS ATTRACTIONS AND MOVING PARTS.
Blaine is busy, and the project was complicated, so the process took a long time. The project had many different facets to it, the demising of a larger building into separate uses, a new tenant that included a restaurant/kitchen, plus all of the unique attractions. The laser tag arena has a fully self-supporting structural steel mezzanine that allows for play on two levels that had a separate engineer, review, and permit process. The fire life/safety requirements for this type of use are also very stringent and complicated.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF THE PROJECT AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
Going in I thought that the coordination of about a dozen separate attraction and systems vendors, hired by our client, was going to be a nightmare. We had a very small window of time to get them in to do their work, and all of them had different requirements that needed to be met for them to be able to do their work. It took a massive amount of communication and scheduling throughout, but it ended up not being as much trouble as feared. Our field superintendent and client had a lot to do with that success.
WITH SO MANY ATTRACTIONS TO CHOOSE FROM, DO YOU HAVE A PERSONAL FAVORITE?
I haven’t tried them all yet, but I would say the Dark Ride is my favorite. I can’t believe the technology that delivers such a cool interactive experience can be found somewhere like this that doesn’t have “Disney” in its name.
—Job Superintendent Drew Belsaas (Sullivan Day)
WAS THERE ONE ATTRACTION THAT PROVED TO BE MORE HANDS-ON THAN THE OTHERS? IF YES, TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT.
Even though I really didn’t have to get too involved with install of attractions, I would say laser tag was the most crucial. I had to make sure at least a dozen times that the measurements of the space it was going into would work for the steel structure that was put in by Creative Works.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT THE ENORMOUS PIZZA OVEN IN THE RESTAURANT.
It’s BEAUTIFUL!!! It’s a brick rotating oven that can cook up to 10 pizzas at a time, depending on the size of the pizza. It has ceramic tile on the outer shell of the dome that just pops when you look into the kitchen. In addition to pizza, the menu ranges from yummy cheese curds, delicious quesadillas, salads, and Sides to a Kid’s Menu. There is also wine and a great selection of bottled beer and on tap! There, literally is something for everyone!
WHAT WAS YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITE ATTRACTION TO WORK ON AND WHY?
I would have to say laser tag! I have never seen anything so detail oriented. The air brush paint and the two levels make it quite the fun area to play in. I also want to note that I think when people hear about or see posts about the Fun Lab, they probably think it’s a place just for kids. Well you are in for a surprise! Not only do they have fun arcade games, but the attraction and rides they have also fit adults as well. I couldn’t believe how much it made me feel like a kid again. Sometimes as parents, that’s what we need. That we can go there with our family, and instead of just watching our kids run around, we can run around with them and have a blast as well, and enjoy an ice cold beer along the way.