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Serving Anchorage's Inner Child: Construction on Alaska's only Dave & Buster's nearly complete; hiring underway.

Construction is almost finished on the new Dave & Buster's at the Dimond Center in Anchorage, and people are getting excited about its March opening. The first entertainment complex of its kind in the state, it not only took the vision from the mall's owners but the cooperation of the Alaska Legislature and the efforts of a lot of skilled craftsmen to bring this project to fruition.

"Alaska has been so opening and welcoming to us; it's overwhelming how many people helped us pull this off," says Oso Adams, general manager of the Anchorage Dave & Buster's, which will be one of the company's largest facilities in the country.

Embracing the Vision

About five years ago, Hugh Ashlock, partner and second generation owner of Dimond Center, attended a shopping center conference where he watched Dave & Buster's CEO Stephen M. King unveil a prototype of a new company concept.

"What I saw was a sports bar on steroids with a great restaurant, lots of private dining, and more experiential retail--it was a wonderful transformation of the Dave & Buster's concept," says Ashlock.

Visiting Dallas the next day, Ashlock toured the prototype and expressed interest in bringing it to the 49th state. Roughly seven months later, the company started looking at expanding into Alaska, but there were challenges that first needed to be overcome.

"We had to get the law changed in respect to gaming for prizes," says Ashlock. "While games of skill, like skee-ball, were no problem, any type of game that involved chance, like a Spin to Win, was considered gambling and was therefore illegal."

Senate Bill 157, an act defining arcade-style amusement devices that was introduced by Senator Lesil McGuire, passed unanimously by the Alaska Senate and House and was signed by Governor Bill Walker, paving the way for construction on the new Dave & Buster's to begin. But the project's challenges didn't stop there.

"We had to figure out how to shoehorn a 50,000--square-foot addition into our shopping center," says Ashlock. "So we decided to raise 25,000 square feet of roof on our second floor to create the arcade and midway."

Raising the Roof

While architects, engineers, and construction companies are used to dealing with the unique issues that working in Alaska presents, it's not often that they get involved in actually raising the roof of a mall.

"The biggest part of this project involved raising the roof about six feet to get the clearances that Dave & Buster's needed," explains Dennis L. Berry, PE, senior principal of BBFM Engineers, Inc. "We've never done anything like this before."

Berry and Greg Latreille, PE, worked on the design, using CAD technology to create the plans. "When you think of drawings, you normally think of two-dimensional plans," says Berry. "For our work for Dimond Center, we used a computerized building information modeling system that allowed us to create a three-dimensional model of the building. We were able to raise the roof in the model and look at all of the other issues we needed to deal with to make the addition structurally sound."

In addition to raising the roof, the columns needed to be extended and the old lateral system had to be replaced. "We also had to design temporary bracing so that we could disconnect the permanent lateral system while putting in the new one," says Berry.

Rooflifters, a company based out of Miami and Toronto, came in to raise the roof, and the project was completed in roughly twelve hours. "It all went very smoothly," says Berry. "The work was done when the mall was closed and was all accomplished from removal of the lateral bracing, lifting of the roof in several stages, and installation of the temporary lateral bracing prior to the opening of the mall on Monday."

"It was really slick," adds Ashlock, who goes on to say the mall only had a three-week window in which Rooflifters could work on the project.

In addition to BBFM, six other Alaska businesses were involved in the renovation project, including architectural firm WB Architecture; general contractor MCN Construction; steel fabricators Allied Steel Construction; Independent Steel Erectors; RSA Engineering; and Meyer Engineering.

Before raising the roof could be scheduled, other demolition needed to be done, including removing the escalator and original stairs. Renovations included putting in new stairs, floors, walls, and elevators, as well as overhauling the mechanical and electrical systems. Numerous other improvements were also taking place at the same time, including the creation of a north entrance in the shopping center to provide direct outside access to Dave & Buster's and renovating the south entrance.

"It was more than just gutting the space; we actually had to rearrange space within Dimond Center so that it would work for the tenants and the city," says Mark Nystuen, president of MCN Construction. The general contractor was involved in both phases of the project, working first on core and shell improvements for Dimond Center and then on tenant improvements with the Dave & Buster's team.

According to Nystuen, roughly thirty to sixty people were working onsite on any given day, finding solutions to the challenge presented by the logistics of trying to demolish and build sections of a building in a working mall. "There were times when we had to start and stop because it was too noisy, but I have to say that both Dimond Center and Dave & Buster's were really good to work with--they were very accommodating," says Nystuen. "It was a real team effort to make this project happen."

"We've made a lot of improvements, including cleaning up the design and improving traffic flow," says Ashlock. "We're developing the mall in a larger context, adding additional square feet and re-tiling and relighting the common areas. Our goal is to provide a more attractive destination for customers where they want to come and have a nice dinner, glass of wine, maybe see a movie or go for yogurt; we want to lengthen their stays as well as increase the number of visits a year."

According to Ashlock, the improvements totaled about $20 million, with both Dimond Center and Dave & Buster's paying roughly equal amounts.

Why Anchorage? Why Now?

Despite the many claims that "malls are dead," Ashlock takes a very different view. "We had 12 million visits last year, making us the highest-traffic facility in Alaska," he notes. "Alaska can be cold and dark, and people want to find a way to be entertained, which is why the idea of experiential retail--having hands-on experiences like visiting a restaurant or a theater--is key to a successful shopping center."

According to the US Census Bureau, Anchorage ranked second--behind New York and ahead of San Francisco--for money spent on food. "Half of the Anchorage population lives in south Anchorage where there are hardly any restaurants," says Ashlock. "We're looking at populations with average household incomes of $120,000, and they're looking for somewhere to come to eat and be entertained."

In addition to food and games, one added attraction of Dave & Buster's is its ability to offer private dining options, something that is sorely lacking in the area. "Now places like Alyeska and Providence Hospital will be able to have somewhere to hold employee appreciation nights or team building activities," says Ashlock. "The Boardroom, which is located off of the restaurant, will have a PA system, TVs, and more so that pharmaceutical companies, for example, can hold product launches. It's a really cool concept that translates to a lot of different audiences."

"Customers will really appreciate the fact that we have roughly 50,000 square feet of the latest and greatest technology," says Adams of the center's attractions. "We'll have a beautiful dining room, sports lounge with HDTVs every direction you look, and hundreds of the latest arcade games for both kids and adults."

Not only will Dave & Buster's provide fun for the whole family, it will create jobs as well, with the company expecting to hire approximately 250 people before opening day. "It takes a lot of happy hands to keep a building that size running," says Adams, who suggests that job-seekers visit the company's online site to apply. "We know that we're new to people here and new to Alaska, so the site helps clarify the positions that people are applying for."

Adams says that they are currently cycling through applications and will set up interviews in mid-March at a hiring site in the Crowne Plaza in midtown Anchorage. They will also have a store for hiring in the mall.

As things continue to come together, an official opening day will be set, which is expected to occur this month. The company will also probably hold a couple of soft openings to make sure that everything is running as expected.

"As soon as all of the construction is done and we get the go-ahead, we'll roll out our protocol," says Adams. "We are really excited to be bringing this level of fun and entertainment to Anchorage."

By Vanessa Orr

Vanessa Orr is a freelance writer and former editor of the Capital City Weekly in Juneau.
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Title Annotation:Building Alaska
Comment:Serving Anchorage's Inner Child: Construction on Alaska's only Dave & Buster's nearly complete; hiring underway.(Building Alaska)
Author:Orr, Vanessa
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Mar 1, 2018
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