PREIT hopes Lego Discovery Center will boost Plymouth Meeting

Legoland Discovery Center, a chain of children's attractions, plans to open a location at Plymouth Meeting Mall as the mall's owner, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), seeks to drum up business at the property.

Construction will begin in the summer on the 33,000-square-foot attraction, which will include Lego-block play areas, a cinema, and a "Miniland" with Lego-block replicas of Philadelphia-area buildings, PREIT said Monday.

The attraction, scheduled to debut in 2017, will replace part of Plymouth Meeting's food court, PREIT chief executive Joseph Coradino said Monday. It will be the ninth Lego Discovery Center in the United States for Merlin Entertainments P.L.C., based in Poole, England, which also operates such attractions in the Boston area and in Westchester County, N.Y., and elsewhere.

Lego Discovery Center's arrival in the Philadelphia region comes as malls respond to the growth of online shopping by attempting to offer experiences unobtainable in cyberspace, such as destination dining and entertainment centers. The hope is that such offerings will draw customers to their brick-and-mortar properties.

"We've seen the sort of advent of omni-channel shopping and Internet shopping," Coradino said. "It's had an impact on our business. From our perspective, we think experiential retailing is the key going forward."

While massive shopping emporiums with huge selections of high-end shops, such as PREIT's Cherry Hill Mall and Simon Property Group's King of Prussia Mall, have fended off some competition, smaller regional centers such as Plymouth Meeting have been hurting.

PREIT reported average comparable sales at Plymouth Meeting of $320 per square foot during the three months ended September 2015, unchanged from the same period in postrecession 2010.

At PREIT's Cherry Hill Mall, sales grew 23 percent, to $661 per square foot, over that period, according to data that covers non-anchor tenants of at least two years leasing 10,000 square feet or less.

Among the company's six "premier" malls such as Cherry Hill and the 10 in its core markets - which include populous parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other states - Plymouth Meeting's sales were second-lowest, after Beaver Valley Mall near Pittsburgh.

Plymouth Meeting has had trouble competing with nearby King of Prussia Mall and PREIT's own Willow Grove Park, Coradino said.

Though tenants with their own buildings on the mall's property, such as Whole Foods, have been successful, those within its central enclosed space have suffered, he said.

But the Legoland attraction will give visitors a reason to spend time at Plymouth Meeting and, it is hoped, attract new and better tenants - such as toy stores and youth-oriented clothing shops - to the now-ailing indoor mall, Coradino said.

Merlin Entertainments expects to draw as many as six million visitors a year from as far as Allentown and Wilmington, he said.

While PREIT does not have current visitor counts at Plymouth Meeting to compare that to, Coradino said, the fresh business will be transformative.

"We've always believed that the last piece of the puzzle for Plymouth Meeting is to get a tenant to populate the interior of the mall, to be a catalyst for leasing of the mall interior," he said. "Getting this tenant really differentiates our product."

jadelman@phillynews.com

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