Fun Zone at ViaPort Rotterdam, formerly Rotterdam Square mall, is open for business.
A collection of attractions at the mall called Via Entertainment includes the Fun Zone, which features an arcade with more than 55 games and several staggered bowling lanes with a unique light and sound show.
“Right now, we’re having an ‘open house,’ or teaser for people to see what’s coming,” Cenk Hayirlioglu, the country manager of ViaPort USA, said Friday. “We wanted to give them a taste.”
Via Entertainment’s restaurant, called Social House, is expected to have a soft opening this weekend.
Chris Marotta, owner of Marotta’s Pizza and Marotta’s Bar-Riso in Schenectady, and Will Phan, owner of LAX Restaurant & Lounge in Albany, have partnered with ViaPort USA to run Social House.
“We like to work with local people and the community,” Hayirlioglu said. “The community give us so much benefit, and we want to be a part of it.”
The menu is posted on the facility’s Facebook page called “Via Entertainment — Rotterdam,” and ranges from kid-friendly appetizers and entrees like pizza, burgers and mozzarella sticks to high-end items like prime ribeye steak.
Via Entertainment’s open house began Feb. 19, and Hayirlioglu said more than 600 guests visited the entertainment center the first day.
“When everything is done, we hope to get at least 10,000 people in here every week,” he said.
Turkish international retail developer Via Properties purchased the Rotterdam mall last May for $9.25 million.
In recent years, the mall has struggled to keep businesses occupying its store spaces. It lost some major tenants over the past two years, including T.J. Maxx in March 2014 and Macy’s and Gap Outlet last spring.
The mall lost Tullio’s Hair Studio on New Year’s Eve, and said goodbye to Things Remembered and Matthew’s Hallmark at the end of January.
Hayirlioglu, and Fuat Agsak, the business development director for ViaPort USA, have been working on projects like Via Entertainment to bring the mall back.
By April, Hayirlioglu said the new entertainment facility is expected to offer visitors much more than it does now.
Over the next month, Via Entertainment will be completed with a comedy club, sports bar, party room, lounge seating, expanding prizes available for playing arcade games and more.
Even without the entertainment center’s full potential, Friday’s handful of guests were laughing and seemed to be enjoying in playing games with their families.
Xavier Neale, 5, picked up his red bowling ball and smiled.
“The ball matches my shirt!” he exclaimed before heading over to a bowling lane and pushing his ball down a dinosaur-shaped ramp that helps young bowlers roll the ball straight toward the pins.
Xavier spent Friday afternoon with his family bowling and playing arcade games.
“I like to knock down the pins,” Xavier said after hitting eight out of 10 of the bowling pins glowing neon white under the black light on his first try.
Erica Neale brought Xavier and her other two sons, Arnez Moore, 11, and 1-year-old Braylon Neale, to spend the afternoon at Fun Zone.
“We had time this afternoon, so I said, ‘Let’s go do something.’ ” Erica, of Schenectady, said. “We called about the aquarium and found out this was open, so we decided to try it.
“We’ll come back,” she added.
Bernice Barton, of Schoharie, scoped the place out with her husband Friday afternoon.
“We think this would be a great place to bring our three grandchildren,” she said. “It’s so exciting.”
“It’s a very fun place to work,” Justin Stiffen, a Via Entertainment employee, said Friday. “Just look around. There’s nothing better than seeing little kids leave happy.”
In addition to Via Entertainment, a 26,000-square-foot aquarium inside the mall is being constructed, which is expected to open in late May.
By the time Via Entertainment and the aquarium are completed, ViaPort USA will have invested around $10 million more since the mall was purchased last year.
“We are doing this to support the mall,” Agsak said. “It’s an investment — a commitment.”
Agsak said Via Entertainment and the aquarium will create as many as 160 new jobs, which doesn’t include jobs that could be created by new businesses.
“The extra foot traffic Via Entertainment and the aquarium will bring back into the mall . . . the retail will follow,” Agsak said. “We have several prospective tenants from local malls like Crossgates and Colonie Center.”
Via Entertainment General Manager Stan Behrens said the comedy club and party room connect, so the space is ideal for banquets and other special occasions.
“We’re for family,” Behrens said. “We have grandparents coming in playing arcade games with their grandchildren saying, ‘I haven’t done this in years!’
“It’s wonderful to see these family memories being made.”
Hayirlioglu proudly showed off a photo of a beaming child squeezing the plush toy she won at the Rotterdam Fun Zone last weekend.
“This is our goal,” he said while gesturing to the photo. “We’re all about being family-oriented.”
The Fun Zone is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and is open until midnight Friday and Saturday.
Reach Gazette reporter Kate Seckinger at 395-3113, [email protected] or @KateSeckinger on Twitter.
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