SOUTH PORTLAND – Bungee-trampoline jumping, laser tag and rock climbing are now just a hop, skip and jump away for shoppers at the Maine Mall.

A Maine company offering so-called “extreme sports simulators” for kids and adults recently opened in the old Linens ‘n Things space at the Maine Mall. An official grand opening is planned near the end of the month.

Customers at Extreme Family Entertianment Center can scale a 25-foot climbing wall, shoot foam-ball air cannons, battle in an enclosed laser tag court and practice skateboarding and snowboarding moves on so-called “indo” boards. Customers can also run in place in two inflatable “human hamster balls” floating in a shallow pool, or strap into harnesses and bounce — with assistance from bungee cords — on two trampolines.

“It’s like an outdoor place, but it’s inside a building,” said Brandon Barr, 18, of South Portland, while scoping out the facility Wednesday with classmates at the University of New England. “This is something everyone can do during the winter.”

Barr’s friend Susan Denapoli, 18, agreed. “It’s cool to have it inside, so you can keep on doing the things you like, even in the winter.”

Another friend, Cordana Dingley, 18, said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before. We might do this this weekend.”

Summit Adventure Systems of Maine, which launched two years ago, usually operates during the summer. Owner Jeff Hunnewell of New Gloucester said he moves the equipment to weekend events such as festivals, community events and church and corporate functions. The company also operates a “zip line” at Point Sebago Resort in Casco during the summer season.

Normally, Hunnewell just puts his sports gear into storage for the winter, but he decided last year to ask the Maine Mall management about setting up in the central mall corridors. He said he dropped the idea after helearned the price: $3,500 per month.

But this fall he negotiated a lower monthly rate for a six-month lease for approximately 25,000 square feet within the 40,000 square-foot space formerly occupied by Linens ‘n Things. A Super Shoes store will open in 15,000 square feet of space in the same building next week.

Hunnewell said a “ridiculously cheap” lease price and the upcoming holiday spending season make it a good time to launch the year-round enterprise.

And he thinks his idea has “huge potential.”

A market exists, he said, for a business that offers teens entertainment other than video games and television.

“But to get them to use their own energy, you have to offer something good,” he said.

Craig Gorris, the mall’s general manager, said the mall is “actively seeking” long-term tenants for Hunnewell’s space.

He added that the mall often leases to short-term retailers to keep empty space full. He said lease prices are only one consideration of short-term deals; temporary retailers must fit the mall’s image, and help retain customers and attract new shoppers. Gorris declined to disclose the standard lease rate for mall tenants.

Hunnewell’s sports center, he said, fits those requirements.

Prior to Hunnewell, the former Linens ‘n Things space was a temporary home for a Gobeil’s Furniture “pop up” store and home and garden shows.

Hunnewell said start-up costs have been substantial and business has been “fairly slow.”

“We are paying the lease and haven’t got any money out of it yet,” he said.

He added that while he is pleased with his relationship with the mall, conforming to some of the mall’s requirements have been challenging.

For instance, Hunnewell said he initially planned to hang a banner outside his store. The mall, however, required use of more expensive, permanent lettering.

Bill Ellis of Old Port Multimedia, a firm hired to help market Hunnewell’s venture, said the facility will be promoted with newspaper, Web and radio advertisements, mall displays and possibly television ads.

“We’re hoping that once we get a batch of happy customers, word of mouth will do the rest of the work for us,” Ellis said.

Hunnewell said he would like to remain at the Maine Mall year round if the venture is successful. But, he said, the mall told him another tenant has signed a letter of intent for a long-term lease of the space.

“We may or may not be out of there,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]