Urban Air Adventure Park has outgrown its original Southlake location, so the entertainment venue wants to move into an old Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.
With the larger space could come new attractions, including a two-story indoor go-kart track, a warrior obstacle course, a zip coaster and indoor skydiving.
CEO Michael Browning Jr. said the former grocery store at the southeast corner of Southlake Boulevard and Davis Boulevard could be remodeled into an Urban Air Adventure Park with plans to open in November. The new location will be nearly 60,000 square feet, more than twice the size of the current one.
“We’ve been looking for a better place for our customers in Southlake,” said Browning, who lives in the area. “We felt like it was time to come back around full circle to bring that experience to Southlake residents.”
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Urban Air is seeking a zoning change that will accommodate the parking requirements for the entertainment venue. The City Council gave unanimous final approval to the project at its Tuesday, May 1 meeting.
“I think this is going to be fantastic for that area and really drive a lot of economic activity there,” said Mayor Pro Tem Randy Williamson, citing the other family-oriented restaurants in the same shopping center that will benefit.
Urban Air opened its first location in the 25,000-square-foot warehouse on Commerce Street in 2011. Since then, the Grapevine-based business has grown to 131 locations across North America with about 3,000 employees.
And the concept continues to open new franchises. Browning said he’ll be attending a grand opening almost every week for the remainder of the year. That includes new locations this summer in north Fort Worth on Harmon Road and south Fort Worth near TCU, as well as in Bedford, Denton and McKinney.
The Bedford location will also include a new corporate office as the company moves out of downtown Grapevine, Browning said.
Rise of the experiential retail entertainment venues have become all the rage in recent years. In addition to Urban Air, there are Altitude Trampoline Park and Flight Deck Trampoline Park. Obstacle Warrior Kids lets youngsters pretend they’re competing on American Ninja Warrior. And iFly, which opened in Hurst in 2016, gives daredevils the chance to experience skydiving in a wind tunnel.
While Urban Air got its start with trampolines, Browning said they’ve since branched out to include many of the attractions that other places specialize in. The go-karts are all electric and use a multilevel track. The obstacle course is designed to look like the real thing on television, except instead of falling into water, people fall into a pit of transparent balls that turn different colors from the LED lights.
The skydiving tunnel is also a new concept for Urban Air and is coming to eight locations by the end of the year, including Southlake and the one near Alliance.
“We’ve been proving this concept of multiple attractions to create an indoor Disney-like experience,” Browning said.
Rise of experiential retail
The popularity of specialized retail comes as traditional brick-and-mortar retailers find themselves in a bitter war with Amazon and other e-commerce options.
“It’s something you can’t buy on Amazon,” he said. “People are valuing experiences more than things. It’s also a chance for developers to revitalize empty boxes, turning dark, vacant stores into a great investment.”
Anchors have high turnover
Grocery stores have come and gone from the intersection of Southlake and Davis boulevards since the Texas Department of Transportation put a median on Southlake Boulevard.
The Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market closed in 2016, just a few years after opening. Before that, an Albertsons in that spot closed in 2011.
The median limits where drivers can make left turns into the shopping center. By the time they see the sign, they have to queue in the left-turn lane to go on Davis Boulevard. TxDOT did add dual left-turn lanes at all corners of the intersection, but it’s still not as easy as just seeing the sign and making the turn.
While it might be a problem for restaurants, Starbucks or grocery stores, Browning’s Urban Air works a little differently.
“People plan in advance, they don’t necessarily need to see our sign and make a quick left or right into our facility,” he said. “It’s one thing if you’re hungry and you can’t get to the restaurant, you just go on down the road to the next one. For us, they plan to come to us, so it’s mapped.
"We want it to be convenient, right, but we’re not as reliant on our access.”
Southlake has explored the possibility of putting in an additional traffic signal to make it easier for impulse shoppers to turn into the center. The new traffic lights would be line up with the DPS West facility near Baskin-Robbins. Currently, there’s an emergency signal that flashes yellow most of the time but turns red when fire trucks need to exit the station. The driveway into the center would have to be expanded and the median opening enlarged. It would require participation from the businesses to pay for a portion of it.
“There are many elements of the plan that require improvements to the private property in order to construct the signal as designed,” said Alison Ortowski, assistant city manager. “As such, a significant commitment for funding from the private property owners is necessary to advance the project.”