The Mall of America on Thursday unveiled a new weapon in its battle with online shopping: a family attraction called Crayola Experience that will open next summer.
Taking 60,000 square feet of space, it will be one of the biggest destinations at the mall aside from the amusement park at the center and department stores on three corners.
"We love to do things that are special and different," said Jill Renslow, the mall's senior vice president of marketing and business development. "When we can layer the experience — we've built our brand on merging retail and entertainment — it allows us to drive guests from around the world because it's something they can't experience anywhere else."
The attraction will be on the third floor of the former Bloomingdale's space on the mall's southeast corner. It will feature about 25 hands-on activities where children will be able to do things like name and wrap their own crayons and have their faces imprinted on coloring pages. It will be the third Crayola Experience in the United States.
Mall executives visited Crayola's first such attraction in its hometown of Easton, Pa. a couple of years ago and thought it would be a great fit.
To make room, three brand-name installations will close: "Barbie: The Dreamhouse Experience", "CSI: The Experience" and "Star Trek: The Exhibition."
Mall executives declined to share details of its lease agreement with EMS Entertainment, which operates those three exhibits. EMS, which runs similar attractions in Las Vegas and Orlando, did not respond to a request for comment.
The mall is doing some other shuffling to turn the space around the Crayola Experience into a children's zone. For example, the Rainforest Cafe is relocating this fall and will become a neighbor to the Crayola Experience.
"The cotenancy is perfect up there," Renslow said. "You've got Bubba Gump [a fishing-boat-themed restaurant], you've got Rainforest. It's a great family-themed area within the property. And there's more announcements to come for up there, too."
The upcoming pop-up space from the Minnesota Children's Museum will also be on the third floor, though along a different corridor.
The mall is still working to fill the second floor of the former Bloomingdale's space. Renslow said the mall's leasing team is talking to several brands and is deciding which stores would work best in that location.
The first floor has been mostly taken up by L.L. Bean, which opened a store last year, and a Forever 21 store that also extends to a basement floor.
The Crayola Experience will become one of the few destinations within the Mall of America with a prominent presence on its exterior facade. It will have a splashy display above a jumbo-sized boot for L.L. Bean.
"This is a really fascinating location for us," said Victoria Lozano, Crayola's senior vice president of attractions and retail. "This is a great marriage and partnership."
A few years ago, Crayola executives decided to begin rolling out these interactive concepts as a way to help inspire children's creativity, she said. The first, in Easton, opened in 2013 and was refashioned out of a former visitors' center. Crayola opened a second location in a mall in Orlando earlier this month.
The Mall of America spot will be slightly smaller than those locations. While Crayola executives knew they wanted to be at the mall, it took some time to find the right spot.
"We wanted to make sure it was a good location that enabled us to have good experiences and that is really easy for mom to navigate," said Lozano, adding that she wanted parents to be able to easily access it and to maneuver and park double strollers. "We talked about a lot of options. We decided this was the right space."
Crayola has not yet set its price for admission at the Mall of America. But its other two locations charge around $20 a ticket with children under 2 free. It also offers annual passes for about $30.
Mallgoers will not have to pay anything to peruse Crayola's retail store, which will include all of its shades of crayons, as well as other souvenirs.
Crayola plans to hire up to 250 seasonal and full-time employees at the Mall of America.
As for future Crayola Experience locations, Lozano said the company, which is a unit of Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards Inc., will continue to explore other locations around the United States.