If a Wisconsin Dells resort and the Mall of America had a baby, it might look something like what’s being proposed in Albertville, Minn.
A Minnesota development group and Sony Pictures Consumer Products are teaming up to build a Hollywood-themed family destination that is to include a mini indoor amusement park — filled with activities and experiences based on Sony’s movie characters and themes such as “Smurfs” and “Men in Black.” It also will include a Marriott hotel and a large indoor water park. The project, estimated to cost $115 million and create 2,000 jobs in Minnesota, has initial support from elected officials, including Albertville Mayor Jillian Hendrickson and Gov. Mark Dayton.
Los Angeles-based iP2 Entertainment — a media company that specializes in “immersive” family entertainment centers — opened its first two concepts in Jakarta and Manila in the last two years. The Albertville location is among three new locations in the works.
While Minnesota doesn’t fit in with the tropical crowd, iP2 and its local developer partners are confident that the Albertville attraction, which would be a neighbor to the Albertville Premium Outlets mall, will find its audience.
The project is scheduled to break ground this summer and open at the end of 2017.
“We announced a number of big international centers recently, but the one with the partners of Black Forest will be the largest domestic one so far,” Roger Houben, chief executive of iP2 Entertainment, said in an e-mail.
Dubbed the “Mall of Entertainment” on its website, the facility is geared toward families who may want a getaway but can’t afford to visit Disneyland, Universal Studios or other U.S. attractions.
The “Hollywood experience” — or “edutainment” center — would be 50,000 square feet.
This center would be adjacent to a 275-room Marriott Hotel with a 50,000-square-foot indoor waterpark. In total, the development would be 300,000 square feet on 18 acres of land just off Interstate 94 between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.
“There are not many entertainment offerings in the area that can be experienced year-round, and we believe the combination … will make it the perfect staycation for residents,” Houben said.
In addition to the Sony Pictures center that will feature movie-making and game-based activities, there could be a National Geographic-branded center called “Ultimate Explorer.” It is described on the Mall of Entertainment’s website as “a special place where parents and children go to spend time together while they play, jump, climb, explore and learn about our world through the incredible and often breathtaking experiences National Geographic is known for.”
The development group said the National Geographic component was not yet finalized and declined to comment on any details.
Besides iP2, the other three partners in the development group, called Black Forest LLC, are Casey Darkenwald, an Elk River-based real estate manager; Robert Kelly, senior vice president of construction at Roy Anderson Group, and Kevin Hanson, chairman and founder of International Creative Capital. The partners say all financing has been secured, but they did not provide details on the investors.
Sony Pictures formally agreed to branding rights early last year, and Black Forest finalized an agreement with Marriott at the end of 2015.
Officials with the city of Albertville have known about the concept for years.
The developer already owns the land and has successfully rezoned the land with the city.
“They have the land set up to be developed, and now they are honing in on the use,” said Adam Nafstad, Albertville city administrator. “We are excited to see more of the site plans and details and would very much like to see this come to fruition.”
Both Nafstad and Hendrickson, the mayor, said they are thrilled that the project is gaining momentum.
The Albertville outlet mall draws nearly 5 million visitors a year. Black Forest and iP2 believe the new attraction, with an estimated entry fee of about $20, will draw cost-conscious families from Minnesota, North Dakota or other nearby states.
“Albertville is so ideally situated halfway between in St. Cloud and the Twin Cities,” Nafstad said.
“The concepts that I am aware of complement the current retail base and food-associated businesses.”