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Mall Operators are Shopping for LBE image

Mall Operators are Shopping for LBE

By Mark Seavy

As mall operators work to replace the department stores that previously served as brick-and-mortar anchors, location-based entertainment (LBE) is increasingly fitting the bill.

That much was underscored this week when plans were unveiled for the 107,436-square-foot immersive experience Netflix House, which will replace a former Belk department store at the 1.9 million-square-foot Galleria Dallas. A similarly sized Netflix House will open in 2025 in King of Prussia, PA.

These plans follow the debut of the 20,000-square-foot Planet Playskool family entertainment center at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ. The center was opened by Kingsmen Xperience, Inc., under license by Hasbro and with strategic partner Bright Play, LLC, inside a former 200,000-square-foot J.C. Penney department store that mall operator Westfield took over in 2018. The Planet Playskool experience will also house a two-story 30,000-square-foot Nerf Action Experience that is set to debut later this summer.

“It is such a win for us to add children’s entertainment to the property,” said Wesley Rebisz, Senior General Manager at Westfield Garden State Plaza. “Garden State Plaza is transforming into a destination that is not just retail. This helps round out an equation that features retail, dining, and entertainment.”

This transformation comes out of necessity as so many of the anchor department stores have decamped from malls across the country. At Danbury Fair Mall in Danbury, CT, both Sears and Lord & Taylor closed and have been replaced by the experiential formats Round 1 Bowling & Arcade and Golf Lounge 18, a virtual golf experience.

Moving forward, Kingsmen Xperience (which is a licensee for Hasbro’s Playskool and Nerf brands) has plans for a minimum of 10 experiences inspired by each brand across the U.S., said Corey Redmond, Senior EVP at Kingsmen Xperience.

In addition to these mall-based LBE launches, Kingsmen is also opening a 30,000-square-foot Squid Game-inspired experience in Seoul, South Korea and is developing an Art House concept for Crayola that will target consumers over the age of 18. All of this comes after Kingsmen closed a Nerf Action Xperience location in Singapore in 2023 that had struggled financially since opening in late 2019, just months before the pandemic hit.

“It is an easier conversation with mall operators now,” Redmond said. “They were accustomed to having anchor tenants like J.C. Penney and Sears, but things like LBE are the new anchors. It has been slow going, but mall operators are starting to get it.”

Indeed, this infusion of LBE comes as mall operators thin their ranks, sharpening their focus on filling top-performing locations with licensed (and non-licensed) experiences that can fill large swaths of space. Mall operator Macerich, for example, is seeking to expand with Dick’s Sporting Goods’ 140,000-square-foot House of Sports format, which is expected to open 75 to100 locations by 2027.

“There are great entertainment venues we can work with that we can bring in that we expect to open through early 2026,” Macerich CEO Jackson Hsieh said. “So, we want to approach this business in a different way. It is not about providing acres and shops but is about trying to make a difference in what customers need and want. We will concentrate our portfolio on our best properties, which are thriving retail centers and have a better balance sheet.”

In addition to experiences and immersive shops, mall operators are also moving forward with plans to develop residential units in, or adjacent to, their facilities. The Danbury Fair Mall in Danbury, CT received city approval to build 240 units inside a former Lord & Taylor store, Westfield Garden State Plaza also has plans for residential units, and Simon Property Group announced it will add residential units at Northgate Mall in Seattle, WA.

“We add a residential and an outdoor component because then the mall becomes a true 360-degree offering where you can spend an entire day and live here,” Rebisz said.

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