Saturday, August 21, 2010

Theme Park Design – Shopping Districts

Shopping districts have become popular nearby some major theme parks.  These districts offer theme park guests an opportunity to continue their entertainment experience, after the park itself has closed.  These districts offer the park operator another marketing opportunity as well.

Universal Studios Hollywood was the first to try such a district under the name of City Walk.  The district is positioned to force park guest to pass through it both coming to, and going from, the park.  The shopping district is filled with unusual shops, restaurants and architecture.  The unique mix of retail is planned to compliment the park without competing with local area malls.  The park operator can operate the shopping district, or lease the space to other retailers.  The most important consideration is making sure that the mix of shops and prices match the tastes and budgets of the park guests.  The clientele of some high-end shops may look down at theme parks as low-end purveyors of crassness.  These are not the tenants you’ll want.

Disney saw the potential of City Walk and added Downtown Disney to the mix at Disneyland, Paris and Disneyland resort in California.  At Walt Disney World, Disney already had a Shopping Village in the Lake Buena Vista area that was first expanded to include the nightclub entertainment of Pleasure Island, and later, with more additions, it became Downtown Disney.

One downside of these shopping districts can be the lack of attendance during the park’s operating hours.  A related downside is the evening operation of the shopping district where there may not be a demand.  Also, nightclubs and establishments serving alcohol may not be compatible with the theme park’s image, or the desired clientele.  Where gambling is legal, gaming can be provided.  Gaming brings a whole new set of considerations to the mix.  Will gaming cause families to separate, leaving children unattended in the park?  Will children, left unattended in the park, be safe?  Many questions need to be answered and studied prior to these decisions.

For preliminary design purposes the shopping district, for a theme park expecting 3-5 million annual visitors, should add an additional 40 acres to the overall site plan.  I have shown the comparative acreage on the map, but I have not positioned the shopping district as strategically as possible.  Approximately 30 of the acres will be devoted to additional parking, with about ten acres left to the shopping district itself. 

Today, it is important to perform a very comprehensive feasibility study, covering all aspect of the theme park program.  Due to the sudden change in the US economy the shopping district may not be as good of a choice as it was only a few years ago.  Discretionary spending is down across the nation and it may remain low even after the economy recovers, due to new spending patterns.  It will be difficult enough for the new theme park operator to generate park visitations.  The wise operator may choose to provide the real estate for a future shopping district, without adding the capital expense of construction to the theme park’s first phase.  A strategic master plan could allow this extra acreage to serve as future expansion for the shopping district, or for the theme park, or hotel.

The theme park basics discussed here are extremely general.  Always consult with experts, regarding your specific needs, before making any significant investment into land and/or design.  Feel free to contact me.  I’ll be happy to assist you in your efforts.

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