Saturday, May 12, 2007Action unfolds at inPlay
By Sharon Baltessharonbaltes@bpcdm.com
Running the local inPlay is a family affair, with the ownerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s two oldest sons also playing management roles in the business. Shown here from left to right are Justin Stessman, assistant general manager; Michael Stessman, general manager; and their dad, Mike Stessman, the managing partner of inPlay. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Mike Stessman's first attempt to bring his franchised entertainment business to his home state ended on a sour note. But two years later, he accomplished his goal.
The result of several months' work was unveiled on March 25 when Stessman's business, inPlay, kicked off its two-week grand opening. InPlay, which stands for "indoor play", includes two gaming areas (grouped by age levels), a restaurant and bar, banquet facilities for up to 450 people and smaller meeting rooms.
A native of Dunlap, Stessman started on his plans to open inPlay in Des Moines two years ago. After opening his first inPlay center in Peoria, Ill., in 2003, followed by a second in Omaha in 2005, Stessman set his sights on Des Moines.
"As I drove back and forth between the two cities, I would go past Des Moines every time," Stessman said. "I decided that it would be the next place for us."
The timing of his move coincided with the city of Des Moines' request for proposals for a parcel of land downtown on Court Avenue between Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue. Working with Nelson Development, Stessman's plan for an entertainment center and hotel was a finalist. But in the end, the city decided to forgo development for the time being on that parcel of land.
"We were disappointed, but we still wanted to be in Des Moines," Stessman said.
Going back to square one, Nelson Development's co-owner, Jake Christensen, helped Stessman identify alternate locations. Christensen said Stessman was originally "skeptical" about redeveloping the office building at 615 Third St. because of its boring exterior. But the location near the Iowa Events Center and the Principal Riverwalk became a big selling point. Stessman now says he can't imagine another location where he would rather be.
"We are easy to access from the interstate, and we are between Second [Avenue] and Third, which are two of the busiest streets in downtown," he said. "Being adjacent to the Riverwalk and the arena is perfect for us."
Stessman said he has been pleased with patronage since opening. During inPlay's two-week grand opening, half of the proceeds from game cards, the electronic cards used to operate the center's games, were donated to local charities. A total of $26,000 was raised for 22 organizations. Not only are the gaming areas getting more visitors, but the lunchtime crowd is growing at The Stadium Grill and Bar. On-site parking for 77 vehicles is another plus, Stessman said, and an amenity that he doesn't have at his other inPlay locations.
The design of the building is also working well, he said. The space that inPlay occupies is smaller than those of the other two centers.
"By the third time around, you figure out what works and what doesn't," Stessman said. "It's our most efficient in design and layout."
InPlay's 6,000-square-foot banquet space, which offers a view of the state Capitol and the Des Moines River, is also proving to be popular. More than 35 wedding receptions were booked before inPlay opened. The banquet space is actually the "core" business, Stessman said.
In addition to a large banquet room, inPlay has smaller meeting rooms for parties or corporate functions. In mid-April, the Des Moines office of Ernst & Young booked the billiard room and mini-bowling room for an after-tax-day celebration for its employees.
"Our business plan is based on having numerous events at once," Stessman said. "We are an events facility - everything from corporate functions, family get-togethers, weddings and class reunions."
Stessman said his business plan is based on having an average of 250 people per day visit inPlay, with each of them spending about $20. Like most entertainment destinations and eateries, about 70 percent of an inPlay facility's sales are made at the end of the workweek.
Concerts and other attractions at the nearby Iowa Events Center have already proved to be a boost to Stessman's business. The night of the Kenny Chesney concert in April was inPlay's biggest night so far, Stessman said.
He expects to attract more customers from Events Center shows as he expands his marketing efforts, and as more sports-oriented events come to town.
"Next year we plan to do more with the Iowa Stars and the basketball and wrestling tournaments," Stessman said. "All of those things are going to be key components to our success." His one complaint about the location is that, in his opinion, downtown doesn't have enough hotel rooms. He is building a hotel in downtown Omaha to complement his entertainment center there.
"When people come to Des Moines for conventions, you want them to stay downtown and visit the attractions like the Science Center [of Iowa], the Riverwalk and the convention center," he said. "We are excited to be a part of the downtown redevelopment, and the more people you get to stay downtown, the more vibrant the downtown is going to become."