Willow Grove Park — Having Survived the Pandemic — Moves Forward in Restoring Amusement Experience to Retail Site

woman in front of stores
Image via PREIT.
Willow Grove Park's plan to bring family entertainment and dining back onsite is advancing.

The ambitious plans to restore a sense of fun and escape to Willow Grove Park — once an active leisure destination in Southeastern Pa. — are moving along, if not at the speed of a roller coaster, at least with the swiftness of a carousel horse.

The Return of Amusement

In October of last year, PREIT, the mall’s owner, announced a large-scale onsite addition of an action-packed, indoor family entertainment center.

That project — being created by Tilted 10 and Tilt Studio by Nickels and Dimes Incorporated of Celina, Tex. — replaces the vacant JC Penny location with amusements and dining opportunities meant to stir nostalgia while appealing to modern families’ preference for competitive interaction.

The center includes:

  • A restaurant with chef-inspired menu
  • Premier bowling lanes
  • Multilevel laser tag arena
  • Black-light mini golf
  • Bumper cars
  • Pinball alley, with more than 200 games, attractions, and winnable prizes

In describing the plans, Tilt Studio President Ron Kostelny said, “Our team really knows how to entertain and amaze. We throw a great party, and we believe that the region is going to respond very positively.

“We are thrilled to expand the Tilt Studios footprint to yet another PREIT property and create great family memories at Willow Grove.”

The project is the first undertaken by the company in the Phila. area.

Keeping Pace with Trends

It dovetails strategically with national trends for malls. As shopping practices evolve, big-box department stores often vacate or downsize their brick-and-mortar locations to concentrate on online transactions.

When those tenants leave, a dynamic, engaging, and visionary replacement is essential to the overall economic health of the site.

That upkeep to retain momentum is at the core of the Tilted 10 project.

Onsite work is continuing and Tilted 10 is moving toward a Winter 2023 opening.

The Post-Pandemic Retail Environment

The exit of traditional shopping paradigms is an issue PREIT monitors continually and strategically works to mitigate.

The pandemic and its ensuring inflationary worries are constantly evaluated to ensure that PREIT is sure-footedly advancing.

Company data show that leasing activity remains robust, with occupancy improving by nearly five percent, following record new leasing in 2021.

It cites a diverse tenant mix as its largest asset in continuing to grow.

“Willow Grove Park — which has just celebrated its 40th anniversary — has over 55,000 square feet of new stores opening including new-to- portfolio and new-to-region tenants: BoxLunch, Rose & Remington, and JD Sports. Sales at this property are an impressive $771 per square foot.

“Compared to last year, we have increased nonanchor occupancy by 620 basis points to 94.6 percent. We will further evolve this asset with the opening of Tilted 10,” said Joe Coradino, Chairman and CEO of PREIT.

Replacing Anchors

As is happening in Willow Grove, PREIT continually reshapes its portfolio by replacing anchors with other businesses — restaurants, fitness centers, family entertainment facilities — that align better with consumer preferences, according to Coradino.

“Our vision is to deliver one-stop destinations for communities to live, play, dine, stay and work,” said Coradino.

A Necessary Evolution

An ever-evolving retail business strategy is essential to survive and thrive in an environment that sees established retail players become antiquated in a short period of time.

As tastes continue to change, so, too, will malls.

“The days of retail-only properties are in the past,” Coradino observed. “As the world evolves, mall owners must capitalize on re-urbanization and create one destination with multiple uses for the community that will entice residents and visitors.

“At PREIT, we are taking this approach by diversifying our tenants, working with retailers with strong credit, entertainment, dining, fitness, as well as hospitality, medical care, groceries, and more. “We will start to see more and more mall owners adapting to offer greater options to the community. A sustainable solution to underutilized parking fields is incorporating multifamily, offering walkability and expansive amenities, creating a built-in audience,” concluded Coradino.

Willow Grove Park, whose stock-in-trade for decades was family recreation, seeks to recapture that appeal with an upcoming entertainment-dining addition.
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