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Sony plans Wonderverse entertainment complex at Oakbrook Center

In the ongoing evolution of the post-pandemic retail landscape, a former west suburban Sears store is being transformed into an indoor amusement theme park, giving visitors the chance to destroy the ectoplasmic beings from “Ghostbusters” where they once shopped for Toughskin jeans.

Sony Pictures Entertainment will debut the first Wonderverse next month at Oakbrook Center, an elaborate 45,000-square-foot space filled with immersive experiences based on hits like “Zombieland” and “Jumanji” from the studio’s film, TV and video game franchises.

“This is an opportunity to step into the screen and transcend it,” said Jeffrey Godsick, Sony Pictures’ head of location-based entertainment. “And in some cases, be a Ghostbuster.”

Wonderverse will feature both permanent and pop-up themed attractions, from virtual reality missions and escape rooms to old-school arcade games. It will also feature a full-service restaurant and bar, as well as a “Ghostbusters”-themed, easy-to-speak, alcoholic speakeasy for ostensible libations.

The Ghostbusters offering includes a mission to capture ghosts while armed with realistic-looking proton packs; Cross rivers at your own risk. There is also a simulated Ectomobile flying car ride.

Zombieland attractions include the Pacific Playland arcade and bumper cars, where contact turns each player into an undead driver. Jumanji will be a virtual reality experience that will find and replace Jaguar’s jeweled eye, which was the focus of the 2017 rebooted movie.

A retail store will feature devotee-oriented merchandise filled with inside references, such as the “Ray’s Occult Books” T-shirt operated by Dan Aykroyd’s character in the 1989 “Ghostbusters II” sequel. Godsick said the product will be available only in Wonderverse.

“Almost everything in the store you can’t buy anywhere else in the world,” Godsick said. “These are custom designs made specifically for the store.”

Wonderverse is scheduled for a soft opening in December and a grand opening in January. Godsick said that entrance will be free, but entertainment is designed to be paid and prices vary between $10 and $35 per person. Sony anticipates more than 5,000 visitors per day, but individual attractions must be booked in advance, with a limited number of participants at a time.

The entertainment center will be an adults-only experience after 8pm each night.

Hoping to expand the Wonderverse concept internationally, Sony has signed a 10-year lease with Oakbrook Center owner Brookfield Properties. Godsick said the space covers 80,000 square feet, and Sony plans to sublet the adjacent 35,000 square feet of space to other tenants.

The space was once part of a massive three-story, 250,000-square-foot Sears anchor store. happened Subdivided in 2018, which led to Life Time Fitness, LL Bean and Ballard Designs, among other tenants. Sears closed its downsized store It is lower after emerging from bankruptcy in 2019.

The remaining 80,000 square meters of space on the upper floor is Leased to KidZania in 2018was a children’s entertainment center but never opened, and the Mexico-based company discontinued its Oak Brook project in 2021.

“Unfortunately, they too have fallen victim to the pandemic,” said Tim Geiges, Oakbrook Center’s senior general manager.

Stepping into the void was Sony, which has been in the planning stages for Wonderverse at Oakbrook Center for several years, Geiges said. It will soon join an increasingly diverse list of tenants at the open-air mall in the sprawling western suburb.

Built in 1962, Oakbrook Center is the Chicago area’s second largest shopping center with more than 2.5 million square feet of leasable space. Anchor tenants include Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, which has dozens of retailers, restaurants and a growing portfolio of experiential offerings.

In addition to the upcoming Wonderverse, experiential tenants include Puttshack, Escape the Room, Immersive Gamebox, and Sandbox VR, all of which have opened in the last few years.

“We’ve been kind of evolving over the last 10-plus years,” Geiges said. “This is actually nothing new for us.”

Experiencing the old times in a shopping mall; It could mean a movie, a bowling alley, a restaurant, or perhaps a walker at the mall ready to warm up. But in recent years, retail offerings have evolved alongside the growth of online shopping triggered by the pandemic.

North Michigan Avenue, long the nexus of shopping in Chicago, has seen an exodus of retailers during the pandemic, losing Macy’s, Gap and Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo, among others. Vacancy on the Magnificent Mile is still around 25%.

New tenants include: Ice Cream MuseumIt opened two years ago in the redeveloped Tribune Tower.

Mall occupancy across the U.S., which fell to 90.2% in 2021, has almost reached pre-pandemic levels at 92.1%, according to third-quarter data from ICSC, an industry trade group.

A growing share of these vacancies are being filled by experienced tenants, who accounted for about 15% of all retail leasing activity last year, according to JLL’s November report.

“We are in the midst of a boom in the experiential economy,” Godsick said. “People today, especially millennials and Gen Z, are much more interested in spending their money on experiences rather than just acquiring material goods.”

Brookfield Properties, part of Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management, acquired GGP for $15 billion in 2018, taking over Oakbrook Center and a handful of other malls in the area. For better or worse, he has been an agent of change in Chicago retail.

Brookfield demolished a vacant Macy’s anchor store on Northbrook Court in 2019 and wants to develop again north suburban shopping center that is nearly 50 years old as a mixed-use residential and retail center.

Brookfield in April 2022 walked away Water Tower Place is returning what was once the jewel of Michigan Avenue to its lender after losing Macy’s and other tenants during the pandemic.

Oakbrook Center remains a “thriving, thriving shopping center” with a waiting list of prospective tenants, according to Brookfield Properties spokeswoman Lindsay Kahn.

Geiges is confident Wonderverse will be a regional draw for Oakbrook Center.

“I think Sony’s Wonderverse will attract people from all over because it will be such a unique and exciting concept,” Geiges said.

Sony is confident in this success.

Based on the first Wonderverse performance at Oakbrook Center, the concept is being studied for locations around the world, Goldsick said.

“Our goal is to open this up first, learn everything we can,” Goldsick said. “Then we will begin to offer Wonderverse as a product both in the United States and internationally.”

Already listed on the upcoming Oakbrook Center site, Wonderverse is racing against time to open by the holidays.

During a recent visit, workers in hard hats and yellow vests were busy building the cavernous area, which has been the most frequented site of construction scissor lifts, weeks before its planned opening. Most of the attractions are centered off-site.

The Ghostbusters virtual reality experience was among the first to be implemented, with the Ectomobile driving stealth and a series of proton packs hanging on a nearby wall.

The Pacific Playland arcade, where the final scene of the movie “Zombieland” was set, was also fully set up and featured flashing lights of coin-swallowing games, from giant video classics like Pac-Man and Space Invaders to customized claw machines and Skee-Ball. . In their own arena, pristine bumper cars sat neatly in a row as they waited for fenders to bend and chaos to arrive.

However, some concepts are still being worked on. Godsick said a plan to create a Twinkie-like treat in honor of “Zombieland” is still in the culinary research and development stage, although chefs at the on-site restaurant have prepared a fried Marshmallow Man in tribute to “Ghostbusters.” .

“We’re working on something like a giant sponge cake dessert,” Godsick said. “We haven’t figured this out yet.”

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

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