April 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions: Play Stations - April 2000 Current Issue
April 2000
Airtight Garage Head games: Airtight Garage, Metreon, San Francisco

Play Stations

Groups can dine, drink and shop at these all-in-one ‘eatertainment’ venues

By Martha Cooke

Getting a group from dinner to a show to the requisite souvenir pit stop has never been easier. One-stop shopping for off-site venues now is possible in many cities, in the form of new retail, dining and entertainment districts. And more are on the way.

These so-called “eatertainment” complexes let planners deliver all the goods a destination has to offer. Many incorporate elements of local culture or history into their design scheme, or capitalize on local color.

“One of the key components to calling a place group-worthy is how much time a person can spend there,” says Arlene Spiegel, director of food and beverage practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City. Ideally, there should be enough to hold participants’ interest for two to three hours, she says.

Of course, part of that allotted time can be spent shopping. Retail itself provides entertainment, says Malachy Kavanagh, spokesperson for the New York City-based International Council of Shopping Centers. “Consumers want this Disney-esque experience in everything they do; being able to combine that with shopping is seen as the wave of the future.” The Mills Corp., outlet mall giant and developer of Nashville’s new Opry Mills complex, is an example of a company that has “embraced the concept of retail as a destination,” says Kavanagh.

There should be places to play, too, adds Spiegel. Sports-themed chains such as Champs or Dave and Buster’s offer a mix of dining and interactive entertainment that facilitates team-building and low-key networking, she says. Where are they? Following is a sample of new and upcoming entertainment, retail and dining districts.


Downtown Disney
(714) 956-6501
Fax: (714) 956-6508
Opening: early 2001
Square footage: 300,000
Features: Similar to Disney’s Orlando project of the same name, this complex will link Disneyland and the new Disney’s California Adventure parks. It will offer more than Mickey; Disney is stretching its net to include venues such as Rainforest Cafe and House of Blues, as well as Disney brands such as ESPN Zone and World of Disney. Dining choices will run the ethnic gamut, with eateries offering Latin, Cajun and Italian cuisines. A 12-screen movie theater with stadium-style seating also is on the tenant roster.

Meeting facilities: Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen will seat up to 250 for banquets; House of Blues will seat 400; an adjacent entertainment hall will seat 1,000; Naples (pizzeria) will seat up to 150 in the bar area or 225 in an upstairs dining room; ESPN Zone will seat 900; Patina, an upscale Italian eatery, will seat 275 in its main dining room; Rainforest Cafe will seat 550; and Y Arriba, Y Arriba will seat 550.

San Francisco
(415) 369-6008
Fax: (415) 369-6025
Opened: June 1999
Square footage: 350,000
Features: This Sony-owned complex offers high-tech entertainment in an indoor, four-story facility. Retail outlets cater to the wired, with a Sony Style electronics store and what is billed as the world’s first Microsoft store, Microsoft SF. Entertainment options include a 600-seat IMAX theater, along with the 15-screen Sony Theatres Metreon. Other venues draw on Silicon Valley wizardry; offerings range from a virtual reality game zone called Airtight Garage to a 3-D presentation facility. Five bistros, collectively called A Taste of San Francisco, offer variations on California cuisine, including an Asian-style noodle shop, a Japanese restaurant and a pasta-and-pizza café. In the Night Kitchen is a theme restaurant with a moon-and-stars motif. Jillian’s South of Market has a sports bar atmosphere, with billiards, darts and big-screen TVs.

Meeting facilities: The movie theaters are available for private showings or presentations; the largest seats more than 500. Jillian’s hosts up to 550 for receptions; Airtight Garage accommodates up to 675; A Taste of San Francisco can be bought out for groups of up to 400.


Denver Pavilions
(303) 260-2001
Fax: (303) 260-6002
Opened: November 1998
Square footage: 350,000
Features: Denver has arrived. The 20-foot-high letters spelling out the city’s name over this venue have become a local landmark. This three-story complex is a hybrid of glassed-in and open-air designs. The Pavilions spans two blocks by straddling the street that runs through it; the second and third floors are built above the open roadway. Eateries include a Wolfgang Puck Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe and Magianno’s Little Italy. Virtual reality theme eatery Café Odyssey offers high-tech decor and a choice of settings for private events: Atlantis, Machu Picchu or Serengeti. Also on-site is a 15-screen movie theater. Next door is the 1,225-room Adam’s Mark Denver.

Meeting facilities: Wolfgang Puck Cafe has two meeting rooms that accommodate 55 each with breakout space for 150; Magianno’s has a banquet room that accommodates groups of 12 to 600 for dinner; the second floor of Hard Rock Cafe seats up to 50; Café Odyssey’s Atlantis Room seats 80, the Machu Picchu Room seats 150 and the Serengeti Room seats 180; buyouts for groups of up to 9,000 are accommodated by blocking off the street that runs through Denver Pavilions and using the venue’s two open-air courtyards.


Universal Studios CityWalkNASCAR Cafe
(407) 363-8182
Fax: (407) 224-5954
Opened: March 1999
Square footage: 1.3 million
Features: Celebrity name-dropping is the watchword at the Orlando branch of CityWalk (the concept premiered in Universal’s Los Angeles park in 1993). Bob Marley A Tribute to Freedom offers reggae and Jamaican cuisine, while Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville has a tropical theme. Rounding out the “if it’s too loud, you’re too old” contingent are the Motown Cafe; NASCAR Cafe; Hard Rock Cafe Orlando; and its sister property, Hard Rock Live, a live-performance venue. Other famous names include legendary New Orleans pub Pat O’Brien’s and an Emeril’s restaurant. A number of retail outlets offer brand merchandise from the various venues. Specialty shops feature offbeat items ranging from cigars to glow-in-the-dark jewelry and apparel.

Meeting facilities: Pat O’Brien’s seats up to 500; Motown Cafe seats up to 450; Bob Marley A Tribute to Freedom seats up to 250; the CityWalk promenade accommodates up to about 5,000 for a private block party; more than 20,000 are accommodated using the adjacent Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida areas of the park.

Centro Ybor
(813) 242-4314
Fax: (813) 242-0364
Opening: August 2000
Square footage: 210,000
Features: In the heart of Tampa’s Ybor City, this $45 million complex plays up its locale with Latin-themed dining and entertainment. The focal point of the project will be the renovated Centro Español, a 200,000-square-foot dining and retail venue. Tu Tu Tango, a 7,000-square-foot eatery, will feature tapas (Spanish appetizers) and flamenco dancers. Other dining options will include a Mexican-themed margarita bar called Adobe Gila’s and Tomatoes, an Italian restaurant. Most eateries will have outdoor seating circling a central courtyard intended to evoke both Latin and Cuban architecture. Entertainment venues will include a cigar museum, 20-screen Muvico theater and Sega Game Works, a game and video arcade designed by Steven Spielberg.

Meeting facilities: The outdoor courtyard will hold up to 300 for receptions. Capacities of individual venues were not finalized as of press time.


Arena District
(800) 354-2657 (Columbus CVB)
Fax: (614) 222-6143
Opening: October 2000
Square footage: 200,000
Features: Constructed on the site of the former Ohio State Penitentiary, this complex is intended to complement a new hockey arena for the Columbus Blue Jackets, with an opening timed to coincide with the hockey season. The Arena District will link the Blue Jackets’ new home with the Greater Columbus Convention Center and the city’s downtown area. The cobblestoned Nationwide Boulevard will be the district’s main artery, lined with retail and dining facilities. South of Nationwide Boulevard will be a grass mall called Arena Park. The southern end of this three-acre park will feature a series of terraces leading to the Scioto riverfront.

Meeting facilities: The adjacent Nationwide Arena, home of the National Hockey League’s Blue Jackets, has 76 suites, a 10,000-square-foot restaurant and a bar area that accommodates up to 350 for receptions. Expansion plans: Plans are under way to develop the remaining area between the arena, convention center and downtown with more retail and dining venues, and perhaps a movie theater. The area west of the Arena District, Pen West, is slated for private development.


Oklahoma City
(405) 232-2739 (Bricktown Brewery)
Fax: (405) 232-0531
Opened: in several stages, the most recent of which was July 1999
Square footage: 1.6 million
Features: One block east of the Myriad Convention Center, the city’s Bricktown district is the quintessential prairie boomtown. Originally conceived as an entertainment district for the adjacent 15,000-seat minor league baseball stadium, the $300 million project is an ever- expanding work-in-progress. Last summer’s addition converted a mile-long stretch of road into a canal and saw the opening of the Bricktown Art Gallery.

Meeting facilities: The Bricktown Brewery seats up to 300 in its main dining room; private rooms accommodate 50 to 250 for receptions. Five excursion boats offer canal cruises for up to 40 per vessel; banquets for up to 20 per vessel can be arranged. The adjacent Southwestern Bell Bricktown Ballpark has a bar that holds up to 150 for receptions; its restaurant, Coach’s Chop House and BBQ, seats 300. Expansion plans: Bricktown currently has plans to add 120,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space by spring 2001. Venues will include high-tech and virtual reality game facilities, along with an 18-screen theater and a 3-D Imax theater. Developers hope to double the number of restaurants, with a projected total of 40. New restaurants in the works include the Bourbon Street Cafe and Mickey Mantle’s Steak House.


Opry Mills
(615) 514-1000
Fax: (615) 514-1120
Opening: May 2000
Square footage: 1.2 million
Features: Built on the site of the former Opryland Amusement Park, this joint venture between Gaylord Entertainment Co. and the Mills Corp. is set to open its doors next month. The $200 million indoor complex is within walking distance of the Opryland Hotel Convention Center and the Grand Old Opry. Retailers at Opry Mills will include Barnes and Noble, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and Gibson Guitar Corp. Entertainment venues will include an 18-screen Regal Cinemas, 496-seat Imax theater and NASCAR Silicon Motor Speedway, which will feature 7,000 square feet of a simulated racing environment. Jillian’s, a 57,000-square-foot facility, will comprise a Video Café and Bar, Hibachi Grill, pool tables and bowling lanes. The 20,000-square-foot Alabama Grill will showcase memorabilia and concert recordings from the band Alabama and other country music artists. In addition to its store, Gibson will have a Bluegrass Showcase featuring a museum of bluegrass history and a performance stage.

Meeting facilities: NASCAR Silicon Motor Speedway will accommodate receptions of up to 200; Rainforest Cafe will seat 385; Jillian’s will accommodate up to 2,200. Regal Cinemas will be available for private showings or videoconferencing. The Gibson Bluegrass Showcase will accommodate up to 450 for receptions.


San Antonio
Sunset StationSunset Station
(210) 223-6153
Fax: (210) 223-5254
Opened: January 1999
Square footage: 250,000
Features: This former train station, less than half a mile from the San Antonio Convention Center, was reincarnated last year. The $52 million project includes the restored station and a complex of retail, dining and entertainment facilities in the St. Paul Square area. Restored to look as it did in the 1920s, Sunset Station features a pink façade with stained-glass windows and is connected to the downtown area by the Riverwalk Trolley line. The original depot has been transformed into the Sunset Saloon, which offers dancing, live music and arcade-style games. Other nightlife options include Top 40, disco and karaoke venues.

Meeting facilities: Sunset Station offers a total of 10,000 square feet for group and private functions. The Sunset Saloon hosts up to 500; the covered 12,000-square-foot Lone Star Pavilion accommodates 1,000 for receptions or 600 for dinner and dancing. The entire facility holds up to 10,000.

Expansion plans: Sunset Station’s Phase Two expansion is under way. It will add five meeting and banquet rooms seating 75 to 150 each and an open-air courtyard, accommodating a total of 5,000; work is slated to be completed by the end of the year. Several other restaurants, including a Ruth’s Chris steak house, also are part of the expansion project.


The recent high-profile decline of theme restaurant chains such as Planet Hollywood might be explained, paradoxically, by the concept of food as destination. Although theme restaurants typically have been high on novelty, some have focused on their aesthetic appeal at the expense of food quality.

“The biggest complaint is that while the theme might attract people, the food is not up to par,” according to International Council of Shopping Centers spokesperson Malachy Kavanagh, based in New York City. Nearly half of theme restaurant revenue comes from branded merchandise, he adds, “so they’re not as dependent on the food.”

But theme restaurants still are worthy contenders for a group’s time and money. Venues such as Rainforest Cafe, Kavanagh says, have raised the culinary bar for the genre.

Patricia Dailey, editor in chief of Restaurants and Institutions magazine, agrees that venues where the highlight is the food, rather than celebrity owners or theatrics, are more likely to win favor with groups.


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