A family entertainment center scheduled to open in the former Sears space at Bonita Lakes Mall in Meridian next March may draw visitors from more than 150 miles away, according to leaders of the project.
Andy Weiner, president of RockStep Capital, which owns the property, gave an update on Hype Indoor Adventures and other plans at the annual meeting of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation Wednesday morning.
“We want to make this the best and largest family entertainment center within the region,” Weiner said.
The 93,000 square-foot facility is expected to create up to 60 jobs and offer trampolines, ropes courses, batting cages, virtual reality, axe throwing and indoor electric go-karts.
Weiner said the Meridian area can build on the Hype attraction. He announced that RockStep Capital would like Meridian and Lauderdale County leaders to consider building a sports complex of 20 to 30 ballfields adjacent to the property.
Readers poll: Community ballfields
RockStep Capital owner recommended Meridian and Lauderdale County build 20-30 ballfields near Bonita Lakes Mall. Do you like that idea?
The company will donate 16 acres next to Hype if the city and county agree to the offer by a year from now, Weiner said.
“When you come to these tournaments, generally the kid plays for two or three hours a day and the family needs other activities to do during the day,” Weiner said. “So now that we have Hype here, we have the movie theater, we have the mall, we have restaurants, we certainly have hotels in the region, it’s one plus one equals three.”
The sports complex would require approximately 40 to 60 acres and cost an estimated $1 million per field, Weiner said.
It's not clear how the city or county would pay for the idea.
Two months ago, Meridian leaders considered a tax increase to account for a gap in revenue and ultimately passed a budget with more than $600,000 in cuts.
The city's golf course is in danger of closing and a 19-year improvement program for Meridian's wastewater system has an estimated cost of $127 million, according to city leaders.
Meanwhile, Lauderdale County leaders plan to build a new government complex at the site of the old Village Fair Mall and have estimated it could cost approximately $35 million.
Following the EMBDC meeting, Mayor Percy Bland said Weiner's presentation was the first time he had heard of the land offer from RockStep Capital.
Bland said it was another option worth considering among other potential sites for a sports complex.
“We definitely want to see how we can create with the county and other private investors a way to move forward with a sports complex in Lauderdale County,” Bland said. “Whatever we do, it’s going to definitely have to be a joint venture to make it happen.”
Lauderdale County Administrator Chris Lafferty said the board of supervisors would be more interested in a private investment in a sports complex, versus a public one.
“It’s going to take some time to digest through it, seeing how that was not brought to the board prior to Mr. Weiner announcing that possibility," Lafferty said.
The board agrees that a sports complex is badly needed, said District 1 Supervisor Jonathan Wells.
“We’d have to consider these other projects we have going on before we can ever entertain that,” he said.
Other plans for Bonita Lakes
A family casual restaurant may open at Bonita Lakes next summer or fall.
Although the mall used to be 100 percent retail, it is becoming a mixed use property with about 70 percent retail and 30 percent available for office space, entertainment, fitness, hospitality or other uses, Weiner said.
He said he would like to see upgrades to the mall's movie theater, including luxury seating, in 2021.
That same year, there are plans for the redevelopment of the former J.C. Penney site – a national clothing retailer in one half and a vintage market for antiques in the other.
RockStep Capital is looking for someone with an interest in antiques and home interior to help manage the market, Weiner said.
He encouraged EMBDC members to shop at Dillard's and Belk because of the challenges facing department stores nationwide.
“If we do not shop at these companies, they’re in jeopardy for these markets.”
The EMBDC annual meeting also included a panel on economic development.
Glenn McCullough, the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, praised what he called “unified leadership” in the region.
“It’s just a matter of time until we believe there will be a major new investment here in east Mississippi,” he said. “We need to keep this momentum going. We believe East Mississippi is winning and the best lies ahead.”