Legoland To Become 4th Anchor at Plymouth Meeting Mall
Officials of Legoland Discovery Center, Plymouth Township, Montgomery County and Visit Philadelphia joined a passel of first-graders from nearby Plymouth Elementary School in digging into a pile of 50,000 Lego bricks delivered by dump truck for a ceremonial groundbreaking yesterday (Tuesday, Oct. 25).
The educational play center for children ages 2 through 12 will be the 17th worldwide, the ninth in the United States and the only one in Pennsylvania, at least for now.
Michael Taylor, general manager of Legoland Discovery Center Philadelphia, said the facility will contain all the familiar elements that have made the indoor playgrounds popular with children and parents alike, along with some new features unique to the Philadelphia location.
Among the chief draws is the “Miniland,” a scale model exhibit featuring noted Philadelphia-area landmarks built entirely out of Lego bricks, with miniature Lego figurines exploring them along with center visitors. For the Plymouth Meeting Miniland, Taylor said, “We will allow you, the public, to decide what goes into it. You will get to vote on what landmarks we will include in the display.”
The theme ride at the Plymouth Meeting center, he added, will be a new concept that is different from the rides at the existing American locations, all of which are located in shopping centers.
Other features include a Lego factory tour — the origin of what became the Legoland outdoor theme parks and indoor Discovery Centers — a 4D cinema, a shop and cafe, and themed play areas where children can let their imaginations run free or learn about things such as aerodynamics on a model race track or seismic forces at an earthquake table. As at a theme park, a single admission ticket buys access to all the rides, play areas and attractions; food in the cafe and merchandise in the shop are extra, of course.
The 33,000-square-foot center will also be the fourth “anchor tenant” at Plymouth Meeting Mall, joining Boscov’s and Macy’s department stores and Whole Foods Market.
For Plymouth Meeting Mall’s owner, PREIT, the Legoland Discovery Center marks yet another major step forward in the company’s plan to reimagine the regional shopping mall in the face of intense competition.
Both Taylor and PREIT CEO Joe Coradino described the center as the perfect match between tenant and site.
“When we look at where to put Discovery Centers, we look for a perfect location and a company that wants to do the project together with us,” said Taylor.
He found both in Plymouth Meeting Mall and PREIT, which has aggressively reshaped the mall into a shopping, dining and entertainment destination over the past 10 years.
“When you look at the mall business, it’s about the experience,” Coradino said. And over the past five to ten years, the nature of the experience that draws visitors to malls has changed. Leisure destinations such as Dave & Buster’s and Legoland now account for a greater portion of the leased space in shopping malls.
Plymouth Meeting Mall, which opened in 1965, is ideally situated near the junction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 476 — the Blue Route south of the junction and the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike north of it.
“The road network around Plymouth Meeting Mall delivers around 90 million vehicles a year,” said Coradino. That made it ideal for Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea, which opened its first United States store at Plymouth Meeting Mall in 1985, and it makes the mall an ideal site for a Legoland Discovery Center.
Coradino said that PREIT had been in talks with Legoland parent Merlin Entertainments Ltd. for some years leading up to the deal to put one in the mall. Those traffic figures appealed to Merlin, and the lure of Legoland appealed to PREIT.
“A Legoland Discovery Center draws from a larger area than a typical mall tenant,” he said. And the beauty of having dining and entertainment destinations in a mall is that they stimulate “cross-shopping” — industry-speak for a trip to a mall for one purpose, such as eating out, that in turn leads to ancillary purchases, usually in the mall’s retail stores.
Given that online shopping and resurgent “Main Street” retail have both cut into shopping mall traffic, malls that wish to stay competitive must reinvent themselves in some way. And with the 800-pound gorilla that is King of Prussia at the next major highway junction to the west, and the larger Willow Grove Park mall to the east, PREIT knew that relying on retail alone wouldn’t do the job.
Its first major move towards diversifying Plymouth Meeting’s traffic was the opening of Whole Foods Market as its third anchor tenant in 2010. At 65,000 square feet, the store is the largest the chain operates in the Philadelphia area and served as a template for the new store that just opened at Rodin Square in the city.
“And instead of sitting out there by itself” as Ikea did, Coradino said, “Whole Foods is connected to the mall via a row of stores that includes Orvis, J. Crew, Ann Taylor Loft and Chico’s.” Thus food shopping becomes the jumping-off point for a day at the mall.
So will playing with Lego bricks, as the Discovery Center will occupy most of the north side of the mall’s first level. “These two- to 12-year-olds are coming in with Mom and Dad, and while they’re generating significant traffic to the Legoland Discovery Center, they’re also bringing in customers who will shop and dine. They have lunch or dinner, then after lunch or dinner, they make an ancillary purchase.”
The strategy has proved successful enough at Plymouth Meeting that PREIT is beginning to replicate it with a Whole Foods Market in Exton Square Mall. While it’s not likely that a Legoland will follow — there’s only one of those in each of the eight U.S. cities that now have them (Atlanta; Auburn Hills, Mich.; Boston; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth; Kansas City, and Westchester County, N.Y.) — chances are that PREIT might be able to persuade Merlin to put one of its other attractions, such as a Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, in Exton Square.
“The ultimate indoor Lego playground” will open at Plymouth Meeting Mall in the spring of 2017.