A business park in Eagan is about to become home to an unconventional business - a privately operated indoor playground that aims to be an alternative to play facilities typically found in city-operated community centers.
Good Times Park is the brainchild of Lakeville resident Bonnie O'Meara, a former human resources executive who says her interest in family-oriented recreation comes from her own experience as a mother.
"I love the idea of seeing kids play," said O'Meara, whose sons are 12 and 9. "You can spend a lot of time looking for ways to keep your kids active."
O'Meara said that over the years she has taken her kids to community indoor playgrounds, including The Blast in Eagan, and concluded there was room in the market for a facility that offered different types of play spaces.
City officials appear to feel the same way and say they don't view the new indoor park as competition for The Blast, the indoor play facility that opened in the Eagan Community Center in 2003.
Other Twin Cities area community-operated indoor playgrounds include the Eagles Nest in New Brighton, Lookout Ridge in Woodbury and Maple Maze in Maplewood. Perhaps the best known is Edinborough Park in Edina, which has been operating for 26 years and drew almost 160,000 visitors last year, according to Susan Faus, senior recreation facility manager.
"It's a welcome addition," said Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire, who told O'Meara at a City Council meeting last month that the indoor park would have come in handy for families looking for things to do during the recent holiday break. O'Meara said she's hoping to get the facility up and running by April in time for the school spring break.
The City Council unanimously approved O'Meara's plans for the 25,000-square-foot play center in a commercial building at 3265 Northwood Circle. The space was formerly occupied by the American Red Cross but has been vacant since October 2011.
O'Meara said she spent about nine months looking for sites, focusing on parts of the south metro area with easy access to Eagan, Burnsville, Lakeville and Apple Valley. Although the facility won't be in a retail center, it will be close to the busy commercial intersection of Denmark Avenue and Yankee Doodle Road.
O'Meara stresses that adults will be required to supervise their children at the facility and also sign a waiver. She will be the park's only full-time employee.
"It's not a drop-off," she said. In fact, O'Meara said she's designing the park as a place where families, including adults, can play together. "The concept is having a convenient place for families to have some laughs together and burn off some energy. The principle is unstructured play."
Monthly membership fees will range from $20 to $45, depending on the number of children in the family. The cost for a one-time visit will be $8 per child. O'Meara said she also hopes to offer annual memberships and group rates, although those fees have not been determined yet.
The facility will have a gym and an open field. Plans call for traditional play equipment, like monkey bars and slides, as well as more unusual features like a giant inflatable jumping pillow and overhead projectors that will display three-dimensional hologram games onto floors. O'Meara said she spent about two years researching various types of playground equipment, poring over catalogs and meeting with area equipment vendors and park directors. She said the cost of remodeling and outfitting the indoor park will total about $550,000.
O'Meara said her business plan projects becoming profitable within the first year. She said she might explore opening up indoor parks in other communities, possibly through franchising.
She believes her facility will complement, rather than compete, with The Blast, whose play equipment is tailored mostly for younger children. The community facility isn't packed all the time like it was when it opened 10 years ago, but it is still a popular amenity, said Cherryl Mesko, superintendent of Eagan's park and recreation operations. The Blast's space-themed climbing structure tends to fill up when other activities in the adjacent gym are going on, she said.
City Administrator Tom Hedges agrees there's room in Eagan for both indoor parks and said he'd be interested in taking his grandchildren to the new facility.
"The Blast has been very successful, but the more opportunities like this we can provide for families, the better," he said. "Venues like this help advertise our community."
Susan Feyder 952-746-3282