TECH-FUELED FUN

Virtual reality theme parks set to beam into Houston area

A real estate company is on the hunt for space in Houston for a virtual reality theme park. Photo courtesy of Legend Heroes

Coming soon to a vacant retail store near you: an indoor virtual reality "theme park" being planned by a company based in Singapore.

D. Legends Holdings Pte Ltd. has hired a New Jersey real estate brokerage, R.J. Brunelli & Co. LLC, to scout the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas for shuttered retail spaces — like former Toys R Us stores — to house virtual reality entertainment centers.

It's part of the rollout of the Singapore company's Legend Heroes Park concept in major U.S. metro areas, the brokerage says in a release. Aside from Houston and DFW, those markets include Boston, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco.

Capitalizing on technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, holograms, and motion tracking, Legend Heroes Park enables customers to immerse themselves in next-generation attractions such as rides, arcade games, entertainment, and sports like football and archery.

The first Legend Heroes Park opened recently in Macau, a casino and mall mecca off the coast of China.

In the U.S., R.J. Brunelli is focusing on old retail spaces measuring 30,000 to 40,000 square feet — roughly the size of an average Best Buy or Bed Bath & Beyond store — to house the high-tech parks, it says. The overall ceiling height must be at least 16 feet, with 40 percent of the space accommodating rides 32 feet tall or more.

The real estate broker is on the hunt for vacant stores or abandoned floors at regional malls, as well as empty big-box stores outside regional malls or at major retail centers. It's also considering warehouses close to malls or entertainment complexes.

"At a time when many mall operators are struggling to fill vacant department store spaces, Legend Heroes Park offers a unique entertainment destination … aimed at people of all ages," Julie Fox, manager of new tenant representation at R.J. Brunelli, says in the release. "In particular, the flexible concept presents a compelling alternative for properties desiring to present new options that can potentially bring back millennials who have shied away from malls in recent years."

Representatives of R.J. Brunelli couldn't be reached for comment.

With its Legend Heroes Park venture, D. Legends Holdings is hoping to ride the virtual reality wave. According to one forecast, the global market for virtual and augmented reality is expected to reach $571.4 billion by 2025.

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This story originally ran on CultureMap.

Amy Chronis runs the Houston office of Deloitte and serves on the sustainability board for the GHP. AlexandersPortraits.com

When Amy Chronis, the Houston managing partner for Deloitte, was asked to join the Greater Houston Partnership last year, she immediately started doing some research on some of the bigger picture issues the city is facing.

In March, as the chair for the organization's sustainability committee, she brought together a group of constituents to engage in a Smart Cities study with the goal to identify what Houston needs to focus on — what it wanted to be known for.

Overwhelmingly, the stakeholders wanted the city to be known for its innovation, something that surprised Chronis. The group pared down the eight topics of action into three they felt were most timely and then spent the rest of the time focusing on: clean energy, transportation, and smart infrastructure (technology and communication). Now, Chronis has a better understanding on what the city wants as she leads her committee for the GHP.

In her career, which has spanned the state of Texas, she's always served clients in various sectors. Specifically over her last 30 or so years in Houston, Chronis has seen the tide change within innovation, especially with large energy companies.

"We're not Silicon Valley, but Houston has so much going on in terms of development — in energy but also even in medical with the Texas Medical Center," says Chronis, citing advancements from the likes of Rice University, Houston Exponential, TMCx, Station Houston, and more. "Houston's got a lot more going on than people realize."

Chronis sat down to talk with InnovationMap about the change Houston companies are experiencing and her work with the GHP.

InnovationMap: What did you learn from the smart cities study you conducted for the GHP?

Amy Chronis: I learned a lot. It's affirming how much all types of people with different backgrounds care and are interested in this topic and are highly desirous of our region moving forward. I also learned that things are more complicated or difficult than we would like — in terms of funding initiatives, for instance.

IM: In terms of developing the city's workforce, what aspects of the community does Houston need to focus on?

AC: I think there was widespread agreement that we need to keep improving our educational outcomes for all our people. The issues around workforce development are critical for us to improve. It will take public-private partnerships to make real progress.

IM: What can Houston learn from other cities?

AC: I learned a lot about other Smart City initiatives that are being done and accomplishments made in other cities around the world. What those accomplishments have in common was a concerted effort by the city, region, and business leaders — all the stakeholders — to agree on smaller, attainable goals. Instead of trying to address something in a huge way, they nibbled at the edges, if you will.

IM: Do you think Houston is able to do that?

AC: Absolutely, I love Houston — in particular our manifest destiny and inherent pillar to our culture where everyone can make it. It's why I came here 30-something years ago and why my family and I love it here. I think hard work and opportunity still makes Houston a great city. We have the ability, we just need help bringing actionable steps forward.

IM: Switching gears a little, what's the role Deloitte and its clients are playing within Houston's innovation ecosystem?

AC: We like to think we're a real conduit for innovation and a digital transformation for many of our clients. We're very blessed to serve many of the large energy companies — and across industries — in Houston. It's really gratifying to see how much is being invested in research and development and the focus on innovation catalysts. I think there's an awareness now — more than there was a few years ago — that if you're not moving forward, then you're behind.

IM: How do you see the future of Houston's workforce?

AC: I think we have real progress to be made to make sure all of our citizens can achieve the education and opportunities they need. I'm heartened by public-private partnerships that are already underway.

As digitalization moves along, people talk about whether or not artificial intelligence and machine learning will replace jobs. It will replace some jobs, but it'll be far more important that young people still learn those really critical thinking skills. We will need people to evaluate data and make decisions — that critical reasoning will still be absolutely vital.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.