Editor's travelogue & more

I've really been busy since the first of the year, spending a lot of time on airplanes visiting our clients and projects. From the first of the year thru the end of February, I've logged 32,950 air-miles.

We are really excited about the opening of Helio Center, the massive family entertainment center we designed and produced in Da Nang, Vietnam. It's Vietnams' largest FEC at 157,000 square feet plus 2.5 acres of outdoors and a basement garage. Helio Center opened on February 18th just in time for Tet, Vietnam's Lunar New Year holiday. Our lead article goes into depth about the project.

Linda from our office and I were in Da Nang right before their opening to help our client with start-up management and last minute set-up details and to conduct staff training. While there, we were delighted to have the opportunity to participate in a Vietnam tradition of dinners and parties to celebrate the end of the current lunar year. Our client invited us to his home to join his extended family in their end of year dinner together. Here's the spread we got to enjoy.

We also were invited to Helio Center's end of year celebration for its staff. It was a big party with dish after dish of food being served and entertainment, including karaoke Western style with people signing on stage.

(1) Linda & Randy; and (2) staff at Helio Center's enjoying their end of lunar year party.

There's always serious beer drinking at Vietnamese parties. Our Linda apparently drank enough to loosen her up sufficiently to go up on stage and sign Auld Lang Syne with Man, Helio Center's CEO. Here's a short video clip of part of their performance.

Da Nang is on the sea, so seafood is very popular there. Here are photos of Linda at a restaurant on the sea we ate at and one of another fish meal we had while there, both partially cooked right on the table over a burner. That's steam coming off the dish the blurs part of Linda's face.

What is really interesting about the work we do is not only the places we get to visit, but also the diversity of projects we get to work on. Although they cut across a number of different industries, they all deal with creating leisure destinations built upon the same basic principles.

Our latest clients are two agritainment farms, one in Michigan and one in Kansas. In Michigan we consulted with Lewis Farm Market on master planning to accommodate their growth with parking, traffic flow, new food locations, etc. and strategies to continue to grow both their farm store and fall agritainment business. In Kansas we are consulting with a farm on the feasibility of developing an agritourism children's discovery farm attraction.

Although agritainment may seem like a completely different industry to those of you in the FEC industry, it is really just family entertainment on the farm, and very serious competition to FECs in the fall during the Great Pumpkin-Halloween season. We find that the farmers who operate agritainment attractions are very smart business people, which probably comes from their experience with the complexities of operating a traditional farm business.

We're also currently working with our oldest continuous client, Davis Farmland, a children's discovery farm (a form of agritainment) in Massachusetts. We started working with Davis Farmland back in 1994 when we conducted the feasibility study for development of their children's discovery farm and developed its master plan. We have been working for them every year since with consulting and design of additions and renovations. We are currently completing renovation design for part of their children's play area that will include an new playground structure and a twelve-building pretend village with a main town, farm area and camp grounds.

Two of the pretend structures coming to Davis Farmland

New veterinarian office & hospital; New camper

We just completed a master phased expansion plan for Tuttle Orchards, a diversified agritourism-agritainment farm just outside of Indianapolis. The plan provides for doubling the size of their farm market, additional parking, new enrichment activities, a new safer route for their hayride and expansion of their fall corn maze-pumpkin patch attraction.

We've become active in another category of farm-based destinations - culinary agritourism. We are working with an existing agritainment farm (fall corn maze type attraction) to redevelop their barn complex into a sheep creamy and cheese making facility with a farm market-café featuring sheep cheese and sheep milk gelato, as well a products made from the fruits they grow and products from other local farms.

Leaving the farms, we have started design for a major expansion of Silverlake “The Family Place” in the greater Cincinnati metro. Silverlake is a membership-based, family-oriented recreation and fitness center and has been our client since 2002. This will be the second major renovation/expansion we will have designed for them. The 38,000 square-foot expansion will include expanded classrooms for their childcare program, expanded areas for their children's indoor play areas, a kid-size basketball court, a new exclusive Tween Scene room for their pre-teen members and a new family entertainment area with a Sky Trail Seeker ropes course, duckpin bowling, a Ballocity/soft-contained-play structure, a children's play and discovery center, function/party rooms and a café.

Our other active projects include:

  • Design, branding and management design of a 58,000 SF LEED certified bowling, laser tag, gameroom, scratch chef restaurant and meeting room center in the Puget Sound region. More about this cutting edge sustainable project in a future issue.
  • Consulting with our client in Idaho on negotiations for site acquisition for a family entertainment center
  • Feasibility for an FEC in West Virginia
  • Assisting our client in Cairo, Egypt with start-up management of Club Liko, the children's edutainment center and ladies club we designed there. Club Liko is scheduled to open in May after some delays due to two different revolutions. That's sure not something Western projects experience.

We are exciting about the launch of Foundations Entertainment University 2.0 in Chicago July 14-16. Check out the new and expanded program in this issue's article.

In January, we conducted a national survey of laser tag participation. I'll be presenting the results at the Laser Tag Convention in Las Vegas in March. See our article about it for more information.

If you are a Star Trek fan, you'll remember its mission, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Well, we think our Leisure eNewsletter has similarities to Star Trek, as you'll see from many of our articles. We “boldly go where no industry publication has gone before,” and where they probably don't dare, as they have to keep all their advertisers happy. We don't accept advertising, so we have the freedom to write about things that might offend many industry suppliers as well as challenge the obsolete conventional wisdom that many industry consultants and consultants continue to promote. Nowhere else will you learn about trends that are changing the entertainment landscape, especially the impact of at-home and mobile digital technology, and strategies how to compete to truly future-proof your business. Most suppliers and consultants continue to paint a rosy industry picture based on now obsolete industry paradigms to sell their products and services rather admit the truth of a changing entertainment landscape, that affects the feasibility, design and profitability of projects. As we say, “Don't be a prisoner of the past.”

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We hope you will find our 14 articles in this issue interesting and useful. 

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