The future of retail has more and more appeared to be entertainment, and it gets a big boost in a 200-acre site located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee in 2022. The first 70 acres is now in development on land purchased by the Easter Band of Cherokee Indians through its economic development agency Kituwah, LLC.
Themed to the idea of an American Road trip, the experiential site is being developed by OE Experiences and Mycotoo. OE Experiences's Matthew Cross has worked with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians previously, and is working with Mycotoo to create the ultimate in immersive entertainment. According to Mycotoo chairman of entertainment development, Cliff Warner “It is about identifying, then creating an environment that feels true to the area. One that the guests can relate to and that remains true to the client's vision.”
With the region being a retail mecca already, Warner wanted to create “the right story for the region…something that also might attract some of the customers who would usually drive past without stopping. People that aren't pulling off to go to Dollywood.”
This idea tied into the plan for an attraction that was road-trip themed; and the connection to a roadside attraction the company came up with. He related that everyone had a roadside attraction that appealed to their memory on a family road trip, from South of the Border in the Carolinas to dinosaurs outside Palm Springs in California. The idea the company came up with for this destination was themed in that way, celebrating that type of iconic attraction. Sugary kid-favorite treats are also being researched and considered as being a part of the road trip experience the venue is planning to create.
Attractions will include shops, dining, and entertainment, as well as a hotel and a practical lure: 100 gas pumps. The hotel too will be roadside attraction-themed; the entire property will be a mixed-use amalgam of Main Street style attractions. From over-the-top candy treats to a Southern-style dining experience, to a shopping mall, to a regional theme park – all of these aspects are key to a successful development, both Mycootoo and OE Experiences spokesmen relate.
The development timescale is scheduled to be quick: with a full experience in the first sector of the complex to be completed by the middle of 2022.
Both companies view the proximity to Dollywood, as well as its DreamMore resort and the entire tourism-rich region as the perfect place to build a relationship with this new attraction.
The immersive elements of the attraction will include live performers serving as “citizens of our Main Street” according to Mycotoo; seasonal events, the planned jumbo candy store, and the atmosphere of the faux street itself will all be key parts of this complex.
From classic cars of all eras to a lively retail mix, the scene will also include rides. A variety of ride manufacturers have been contacted with the scale of the property and what will best fit the venue both thematically and financially under discussion. Balancing all these diverse elements are what Warner believes will be the way to success, inviting big ride manufacturers to scale back some rides to fit the regional experience.
And, Warner also stresses that the rides are just one element of the attraction's planned appeal: the travel center from refueling to food, the travel hotel different from other area resorts and motels, and the location of the attraction in a region that is a gateway to the great Smokies, Dollywood, and other attractions are all being factored into design and purposed appeal. The location's drivability and location just 3 hours from Atlanta and many other cities in the region are also key.
Warner and Cross are looking at future growth, the appeal to locals, multi-state travelers, and destination travelers. Also being considered are social media moments that will allow travelers to spread the word and share experiences, and the idea that retail offerings themselves will need to include an experiential component in order to be considered for inclusion in the complex. Themes and types of shops such as antique stores or novelty shops are attractive to the developers.
Meanwhile, Meow Wolf, the artist-founded art installation and themed attraction developers, have their own upcoming take on America retail,:MegaMart, opening in Las Vegas' new Area15 in 2021. The 200-employee art collective began with an immersive art installation themed attraction in Santa Fe, N.M.; the Vegas location will have a more mainstream-appeal. Combining art, retail, and entertainment, the complex was delayed due to COVID-19 construction delays and the pandemic itself. It is designed to contain imaginatively designed retail, bars, dining facilities, and Meow Wolf itself as its “anchor tenant.” An outdoor event space should be particularly appealing moving into the post-pandemic world, but the main thematic element is experiences that people can share.
The Meow Wolf plan is to meld digital and IRL experiences in an intensely creative, signature style. Along with Meow Wolf, there will be Area15 experiences such as axe throwing, and Vampire Pizza – where diners get their pizzas delivered by, yes, a vampire. And the pizza comes with a sealed 60 to 90 minute long mystery game, described as “an amusement park in a box.”
The area will also include a distillery, and theme-park-style rides such as an undersea train ride, boat rides, and holograms. The latter will be part of an experiential dining space pairing fine food with whisky and rum tastings. Naturally, given the nature of the entire Area15 experience, sculpture, music, and artwork will be a part of the dining and distillery attraction as well.
As to Meow Wolf's Omega Mart, it's designed to have fun with the idea of consumerism; the theme for the attraction is “You have no idea what's in store.” The website shows “products” such as tattoo chicken, whale song antiperspirant/antidepressant, nut-less salted peanuts, and a “surprise in every aisle.” Described as “an interactive superstore” 52,000 square feet large, it will include works by hundreds of artists.
The only thing that should not be a surprise: the differentness and experiential nature of a project from Meow Wolf.