Boom Or Bust For The Pike


Photo by Ryan ZumMallen

12:15am | This past month Gameworks; one of the primary anchors of downtown Long Beach’s Pike entertainment center, closed.  According to the Gazette article, the forty-thousand square foot arcade and bowling alley vacated at the end of March as part of corporate strategy; closing half their locations.  The closure of this entertainment venue leaves a large gap in the activities provided by the waterfront district. This comes at the same time as the closure of the Long Beach Clothing Company; one of the few retail establishments within the Pike.  The unfortunate news comes on the heel of a series of positive developments over the past year; the opening of the swanky Avia Hotel, with a second hotel on the way, the addition of multiple restaurants including Kavika and Hooters and the long awaited opening of the Laugh Factory comedy club in 2008. 

Diversified Development Realty, the owner of the Pike has stated that they will do their best to manage the impact of Gamework’s closure, but losing the second largest tenant and a large part of its entertainment offerings will require more than a press release to resolve.  Filling the space with yet more restaurants (ten restaurants to fill the space) would not be appropriate and would likely face stiff opposition from existing restaurant owners.

State government regulates development along the California coast with varying degrees of severity.  Long Beach’s downtown waterfront south of Seaside Way had formally been under water.  Having been reclaimed less than a half-century ago the area is considered Public Trust Land to be protected and maintained for the public access.  Within those regulations there remain options for drawing new tenants oriented to entertainment and visitor-serving uses.

While the loss of Gameworks might be considered an irrevocable loss, it could also be an opportunity in disguise.  While the adult arcade concept has generally been successful, it has to an extent limited their audience because they have a bit of everything but not enough of many things. Among them, the most under-developed activity is the bowling lanes; from Yelp to most every regular I have interviewed there were too few lanes and thus the wait was too long, especially for larger groups.

Since the loss of the bowling landmark Java Lanes near the Traffic Circle, this city of over a half million people has been reliant on the ten lanes of Gameworks.  But now bowlers have to drive over ten miles to Torrance, Cerritos or Garden Grove for the next nearest facility.  Filling the entirety of the space with double or triple the number of bowling lanes would provide a great entertainment destination.  AMF Bowling Centers has an expansive presence in the Los Angeles Basin with over a dozen locations within an hour drive of Long Beach.  A location in the downtown could be a premiere site hosting major events including regional and national bowling tournaments.

To maintain a diversity of activities beyond bowling it would be beneficial for the Pike to continue to include an arcade.  This could be an opportunity to find a tenant that brings more than just video games, expanding midway games and even include outdoor activities.  The carousel and Ferris wheel could form the foundation of a small amusement park that could also include bumper cars, miniature golf, batting cages among other things.  This role would be aptly filled by the Boomers chain of family entertainment centers that are found along the 405 Freeway in Fountain Valley, Irvine and across the country. 

There is over an acre of dormant open space between Shoreline Drive and the Pike to the north.  Like the synthetic ice skating rink installed this past winter, this area can be filled with activities along the rear face of the development.  Spaces vacated by the Long Beach Clothing Company and various short-lived restaurants would provide ideally situated area for an accompanying arcade.  The addition of an amusement park would take this typical development in a direction closer to the original Pike.

While drawing upon nostalgia of the Pike why not re-relocate the Looffs's Lite a Line back to its waterfront location?  An original tenant of the old Pike amusement park the Lite a Line game crosses pinball, pinko and bingo for a unique, authentic entertainment experience. Based on the size of its current location on Long Beach Boulevard the Lite a Line could fill the entire terrace level retail space across from Cinemarks Theaters, providing much needed activity on the upper floor.

Diversified Development Realty could attempt to fill the former Gamework’s space with a comparable but more successful adult arcade concept like Dave and Busters, but finding multiple tenants to take the place of Gameworks could broaden the entertainment options of the Pike while filling more vacant commercial space.  The additional activity both in quantity and diversity would provide a drastically improved experience for residents and visitors of the downtown waterfront area.  While many see recent news as a bust for the Pike there is a booming opportunity to be taken advantage of.

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