The park is no longer the only place for kids to play. In order to keep children — and parents — happy, some retail centers introduced play areas. This takes the family experience beyond shopping.

But families are not the only ones benefiting from these play areas. Since they are effective as an amenity in the project to draw customers in, the retail center also benefits.

Brad Knight, managing partner of Salt Lake City-based Knight Avanté, says the retail-centered “play arenas,” perform several functions.

“First, they serve as a rest area, where parents can rest without having to chase their kids around the store. And then obviously, the kids want to go there, so it brings people back to the center.”

The company's circular areas or arenas, delineate a seating area that defines the space. Some are located within actual stores, but most are in the common areas of the mall. Nearly all of Knight Avanté's creations are in the shape of a circle and surrounded by bank-head seating so parents can sit and watch their children's activities.

As far as feedback goes, Knight says, “We have several clients that get a more favorable response to the play arenas than anything else they do.”

It is real service to the parents. And, a lot of corporate sponsorships start to stir up tying in to that good will, says Knight.

The company recently provided a play arena for Ross Park Mall located in Pittsburgh for Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group. The arena was based on local points of interest. For example, it features three of the main bridges in Pittsburgh as part of the project's “three rivers” theme.

“It is extremely high-end from a standpoint of finishes and colors and fabric. It is an architecturally oriented project. As a result, what we're doing is making this a real compliment to the architectural package rather than a sore thumb,” says Knight.

Simon Property Group has plans to introduce still more play arenas at some of their centers. “We feel good about the ones we have put in,” says Billie Scott, director of public relations at Simon.

“The fundamental goal of Simon is to create as much enjoyment and value out of the Simon shopping experience as possible. The arenas create greater value to choosing to shop at Simon malls,” she says.

Knight Avanté focuses on making their designs not only fun but educational as well. At Ross Park Mall, the company created a children's library with oversized books measuring 3 foot square.

“It is real service for the parents, plus a lot of corporate sponsorships start to stir up tying in to that good will.”

One of the books teaches kids about things such as the state insect and the state dog. Knight says his company tries to stimulate interaction between children and their parents.

The arenas are safe for children. The elements are devised with soft foam, topped with a special finish, and then airbrushed to create the visual graphics.

The millwork, or any kind of hard product, has safety corner bumpers. The play elements have padded soft foam rubber underneath the carpet for added safety. “The parts have to be designed with safety in mind. It is a primary concern of ours,” explains Knight.

“We make these [arenas] extremely maintenance friendly. Our four principals are the arenas are more about having fun, learning, being very design oriented and maintenance friendly.”

The play area concept does not stop here though. According to Knight, his company has seen a new trend, and they plan to keep up with the competition.

“If you don't have a play arena, you better get one. It is about customer demand. It has been probably three to four years in the making, and it is just being taken to that level, where it is going to have to be something you do,” says Knight.

Play area resources

Knight Avante
www.knightavante.com

The Bankshot Organization
www.bankshot.com

Columbia Cascade Co.
www.timberform.com

GameTime
www.gametime.com

International Play Co.
www.internationalplayco.com

Koala Corp.
www.koalabear.com

NBGS International Inc.
www.nbgsintl.com

Playsmart Inc.
www.playsmart.com

Soft Play LLC
www.softplay.com

Symmetry Products Corp.
www.foamtech.com

Zamperla Inc.
www.zamperlarides.com