Mall of Qatar to woo customers with racing simulator, Angry Birds park

Mall of Qatar

Mall of Qatar

Digital Formula One racing, Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatic theater and an Angry Birds activity park are among some of the offerings that will be part of the new Mall of Qatar, officials have said this week.

The $824 million under-construction facility is now expected to open at the end of 2015, months later than originally forecast, and experts say that the planned entertainment attractions could help the mall stand out in Doha’s increasingly crowded retail market.

The Mall of Qatar – located in Al Rayyan near Education City – is set to become the largest shopping center in the affluent and rapidly growing country when it opens, but will have to compete against other retail developments that are currently under construction, including the larger Festival City and Gulf Mall, as well as existing properties such as Villaggio and City Center malls.

That’s led many commercial real estate observers to predict Qatar will be oversupplied with shopping space once those new malls open their doors, as too many retailers chase too few shoppers.

But Shem Krey, the deputy managing director of Mall of Qatar, said he believes the new generation of shopping centers are in their own category, and would be able to attract a sufficient number of visitors at the expense of established properties:

“It’s a hard fact of commercial life that much of the older malls and shopping centers no longer have the retail mix, exciting entertainment concepts or other attractions that families are looking for today,” he said during a presentation at the annual Cityscape Qatar real estate exhibition this week.

Inside Mall of Qatar

Adding entertainment facilities to attract shoppers is a significant trend in new shopping center construction, and one that Mall of Qatar is embracing.

A family entertainment zone will have three main features targeted at youth of different ages. An Angry Birds activity park is aimed at the mall’s youngest guests, and is modeled after the popular mobile game that’s spawned a movie set to hit theaters in 2016.

Angry Birds park in Finland.

Tiia Monto/Wikicommons

Angry Birds park in Finland.

One of several Angry Birds theme parks and attractions licensed by its creators around the world, the Doha center will be the first in Middle East and contain a mini-roller coaster, bowling alley, entertainers in costume and a wall onto which children can launch birds in a style similar to the original game.

That’s according to Alessandra Cortesi, the Mall of Qatar’s design manager, who sat down with Doha News this week on the sidelines of Cityscape to discuss the shopping center’s entertainment features.

Middle-aged children, meanwhile, will be steered towards an indoor “edutainment” theme park dubbed Juniverse. They’ll dress up in costumes and be seated in a spaceship that sends them hundreds of years into the future where they’ll build objects related to their characters, which could include doctors and firefighters, Cortesi said.

For teenagers and adults, a zone called Virtuosity will contain Formula One race car simulators allowing participants to race against their peers or on their own. Large screens, simulated engine sounds and smells as well as vehicle vibrations are aimed at giving guests “a full immersion,” said Cortesi.

Similarly, a flight simulator will let visitors fly planes or helicopters, while a mockup of a football pitch will let players stand in position on turf and play a digital match in front of a screen, she added.

There will also be several “Escape the Room” challenges, where teams of participants are “locked” inside a room and forced to find hidden objects and solve puzzles to secure their freedom in a set amount of time.

Admission prices have not been determined, Cortesi said.

Cirque Eloize

Cirque Eloize

Separately, Mall of Qatar managers have signed a deal with Berlin-based Premium Projects to create a production company in Doha employing some 40 to 50 performers and another 20 to 30 technicians.

They’ll put on three or four shows daily on a circular stage, surrounded by two levels of food and beverage retailers. In a style similar to Cirque du Soliel, performers in bright circus-style costumes will combine acrobatics, tricks and traditional theater.

The mall will also feature a 19-screen cinema with an IMAX screen, as well as a five-star fashion-themed hotel, the newly launched Curio by Hilton. Neither the mall or hotel will be licensed to serve alcohol.

While Krey said some 70 percent of the mall’s 195,000sqm of store space has been leased, few specific retailers have been announced beyond a “luxury” Carrefour grocery store.

By the numbers

The new shopping centers proposed for Qatar in the coming years will increase the amount of leasable space in the country by some 300 percent, according to a recent report by real estate services firm Colliers International.

“There is the potential for significant oversupply,” said Duncan Gray, the head of Collier’s retail division in the region, during a Cityscape presentation.

However, he added that “it is too simplistic to only consider statistics. There is always room” for high-quality malls in good locations with easy access, plentiful parking and a unique entertainment offering, he said.

But with a finite number of resident and tourist shoppers, it’s likely the success of such centers will come at the expense of others.

“In every market, there will be winners and losers,” said Phil McArthur, managing director of McArthur+Co., whose company is a consultant working on the Mall of Qatar project.

“Some of the original shopping centers have already lost market share,” he said during a question-and-answer session following his presentation. Naming The Mall and City Center as examples, he said many of Doha’s original retail hubs “are going to have a real challenge” competing.

But that may be temporary. Investments in architectural upgrades and expansions, such as what is underway at Villaggio and planned for City Center, could help lure back shoppers and further alter the dynamics of the local retail market, McArthur added.

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