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Marlborough development heavy on the thrills

Marlborough development heavy on the thrills

BANKER & TRADESMAN – Don’t call the Apex Center of New England a shopping center, despite its resemblance to the predominant retail development style of recent decades.

Rising on 43 acres of virgin land off Boston Post Road in Marlborough, the $160 million project is a Westford developer’s strategy for luring the public away from their laptops in the age of Amazon. If you’re shopping for a new wardrobe, the Apex Center probably won’t be the best choice.

Instead of traditional anchors such as supermarkets and discount stores, Apex loads up on the thrills: indoor kart racing, a bowling alley, virtual reality arcade, trampoline park and Massachusetts’ third Break Out Games center.

The 496,000-square-foot complex has all the makings of a New England-wide destination, said Dusty Burke of Bellingham-based American Commercial Real Estate, which handles the retail leasing. Clustering entertainment complexes together in a new development alongside quick-service restaurants and two hotels will make the Apex Center a magnet for families including those attending youth hockey tournaments at the New England Sports Center, Burke said.

“Instead of a repurposed older retail box, we’re bringing them into a state-of-the-art facility,” Burke said. “Our opportunity was to create a facility that would integrate all of these different businesses together.”

Developer Robert Walker of Westford-based RAVentures initially planned to build just one business on the property – a sit-down restaurant targeting the business traveler crowd from the nearby Best Western Royal Plaza and Trade Center, Hampton Inn Marlborough and Embassy Suites by Hilton hotels. Walker began discussions in late 2015 with Marlborough officials, who urged him to think bigger.

“One of the things we were hearing from our business community was they needed more spaces to take clients to dinner or company outings,” said Meredith Harris, executive director of the Marlborough Economic Development Corp.

Jeff White, an asset manager for RAVentures, said the developers sought convenience-oriented retailers such as hair salons, dry cleaners and fitness clubs to fill the rest of the space.

“We knew we had to be different,” White said. “Retail can get played out if there’s too much of one thing in one area, and it does come to a point where a space can be over-retailed. So we tried to be very selective with our tenant mix.”

That includes the third Bay State location for Breakout Games, which has a location in Boston’s Downtown Crossing and a second opening this week at 100 Tradecenter Drive in Woburn. Popular for corporate outings, the concept locks groups in “escape rooms” equipped with clues and challenges them to find a way out within 60 minutes.

A $3 million MassWorks infrastructure grant will pay for traffic upgrades on Boston Post Road at the entrance to the site. Marlborough approved a mixed-use overlay zoning district for the site. Expected to open Oct. 1, the complex will generate $1.1 million in annual property taxes and 800 permanent jobs. It also includes the first 44,640-square-foot phase of an office or medical office building being marketed by JLL.

This article by Steve Adams originally appeared here.