Volume of entries and strength of winners showcase a business poised to bounce back.
ARLINGTON, Texas – A crisis that could have crippled modernization and new construction projects throughout the bowling industry instead proved to be an opportunity to demonstrate that industry’s resiliency, as 46 entries poured in for consideration in the 2020 Bowlers Journal International Architecture & Design Awards. Among them, 17 winners emerged across 16 categories, with some of those winners illuminating a way forward for an industry challenged by forces beyond its control.
Claiming the coveted crown of this year’s overall winner for Best New Center is UP2Play in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, where artificial wave surfing, a trampoline park, escape rooms and, yes, bowling, are among the establishment’s bonanza of entertainment options.
The Best New Boutique category saw the longtime dream of 76-year-old Jim Royal, who opened Peachtree, Georgia’s first pizza joint in 1977 and never looked back, come to fruition as he developed Royal Lanes in the city’s original shopping center. The center features 10 lanes of traditional bowling plus six duckpin lanes in addition to shuffleboard, foosball and a generously supplied arcade. The breathtaking La Industria in Medellin, Colombia, gorgeously designed by Tres A Arquitectura and Anita del los Rios, claimed the international award for Best New Boutique.
Mavrix in Scottsdale, Arizona, the name of which the owners say is inspired by rancher Sam Maverick for his “independently-minded” reputation, sees its décor tell that distinctly American story thanks to sparkling design by Studio Lemonade to win in the category of Best New Interior. Internationally, Centrum U7 in Gdansk, Poland, took the top spot for that category as its industrial-chic environs get a dose of urban grit with graffiti-laden sidewall treatment by Dariusz Rybinski at Magic ART.
Complementing the interior awards was a dazzling entry in the category of Best New Exterior, which was won by Diamond Bowl in St. Louis, France, for an imposing and rainbowed exterior that provides an apt prelude to the larger-than-life experience inside. There, patrons will find billiards, bowling and lounge areas sparkling under a wash of neon-hued LED lights.
River Lanes in Bethel, Maine, with its beautiful interior featuring a spacious bar and tables forged from reclaimed wood, won in the category of Best New Lounge/Restaurant in the U.S. The swanky Recreatie Park Het Winkel in Winterswijik, Gelderland in the Netherlands, claimed the top spot in that category with its tony lounge, where dashing flamingos glow against obsidian sidewall treatment as guests drink and dine.
The FEC category, which again saw the lion’s share of entries this year as the industry continues its trend toward the family-entertainment experience, has a winner as well as an honorable mention — both of them international. Mega Bowling Valledupar in Cesar, Colombia, defines the category with kids’ activities unique for FECs, such as painting, while an elegant bar with plush, chesterfield sofas offers parents some adult chill time as the kids burn off their steam.
Earning an Honorable Mention in the category is Ozone X in Madrid, Spain, where vast spaces perfectly respond to the need for social distancing amid COVID-19, while 89 redemption games as well as other experience such as bumper cars and virtual reality ensure good times are in the offing.
Thunder Road in Sioux Falls, S.D., also offers a spacious atmosphere with more than 30,000 square feet to spread out guests while still giving them a good time as 38 game stations and 63 games overall, mini golf, axe throwing, go karts and laser tag in addition to bowling comprise a full-scale entertainment blitz.
Thunder Road co-owner and general manager Ryan Friez explained that the project pivoted in ways that directly addressed changes in customer behavior precipitated by COVID-19. “What we’ve tried to do is just sometimes face games in different directions, encouraging customers to not get inside a game together but rather wait until one person is done,” Friez said. “From a medical standpoint, those barriers [such as plexiglass] can themselves be an issue because people touch them, so they can be an additional contact point.”
Contact points were a topic of such concern at Thunder Road that the decision was made to bring in axe throwing as an entertainment option specifically because of the ease with which that kind of attraction can be sanitized.
“You’re just sanitizing the axes, because that’s your main touch point. We have four axe-throwing lanes, and every lane is a separate lane so that you’re not touching the person next to you or coming into that close contact.”
In the modernized space, Skyline Social and Games took the win for Best Modernized Center overall. The center dates back to 1955, but guests never would know it thanks a wholesale makeover courtesy of Houwman Architects and visionary design by the center’s own management team.
“We wanted to take the traditional bowling center and make the whole facility a professional, cutting-edge FEC,” said co-owner Corey Kolquist. “This was accomplished by dressing up the interior, adding 36 tap beer lines and craft cocktails, creating a new food item, and adding new attractions such as virtual reality and duckpin bowling.”
Also in the Best Modernized Center category, Gametime Lanes & Entertainment took top billing for Interior, as another dashing makeover by industry veterans Dynamic Designs transformed the more than 30-year-old center into a completely new experience for patrons of the former venue. Classy, modern, sleek and roomy, Gametime Lanes & Entertainment brings to its community a new vibe for a new moment in an industry focused on an elevated experience.
Dynamic Designs principal architect Howard Ellman explained that design solutions to a moment that calls for social distancing are indeed available. One such idea, he said, is to “create pods where people are separate from each other, where you have a walkway, and off to the right you have pods that are spaced six feet apart, and you’re in your own little area.
“Everything is put together or placed so that all the attention is focused toward the middle of your pod. You’re talking into your pod rather than talking out from your pod. It’s like a circle, or it could be a square or an octagon. The important thing is that everything is oriented toward the center of your space.”
The Best Modernized Center among international entries was Euro-City Partycenter in Lievgem, Belgium, where 15 of the center’s 21 lanes were replaced with string-pin machines as owner Dimitri Willie sought to “bring his business completely up to date according to the latest standards in bowling equipment.” The experience at Euro-City also includes a playground and glow mini golf to complete a hangout appealing to kids and adults alike.
Sun Valley Lanes in Lincoln, Nebraska, saw owner John Losito stay the course after COVID-19 struck the industry just after he had initiated an expansive renovation project at the 43-year-old center. A spectacularly reimagined exterior complements a host of FEC offerings inside, including bowling, laser tag, volleyball, mini golf and a 27-game arcade.
Tempting patrons in Pittsburgh to dream of hitting the beach is the transformed Paradise Island Bowl and Beach. This project, which outfitted a 60-year-old center with volleyball courts and outdoor dining on a sandy beach along the Ohio River, won Best Modernized Lounge/Restaurant.
In the traditional center category, Husker Bowling Center at the University of Nebraska, which unveiled its new facility with an October ribbon-cutting ceremony, won in the category of Best Modernized Traditional Center. The ambition behind this, and all winners in this year’s BJI Architecture & Design Awards, perhaps is best captured with a little boast by Nebraska coach Paul Klempa, who said at the ceremony that, “In terms of the bowling facility wars, Nebraska has just put the rest of the country on notice.”
All of this year’s honorees in the BJI Architecture & Design Awards have put the world on notice in at least this sense: If you think the bowling industry is down-and-out amid the toll taken by a global pandemic, this year’s harvest of new and modernized centers triumphantly suggests otherwise.
As principal architect Shane Labeth of Cornerstone Architecture said, “I still think it’s a great model, a great business to be in, and it will bounce back.”