Virtual reality arcade bar plan for vacant units at Grand Central
A former clothes store and long term vacant unit in Grand Central are to be knocked together to created a new virtual reality arcade with bar. Described as ‘the closest thing to the holodeck from Star Trek’, if you want a cocktail it could be served by a robot.
The new site is set to be run by SandboxVR, which operates mostly in the US and Asia. It has just two locations in Europe to date – with Birmingham set to join the list.
The SandboxVR website says: ‘By combining movie quality motion capture technology with virtual reality (to create a new medium that is the closest thing to the Star Trek holodeck that exists) we allow our guests to be anyone, go anywhere and interact with anyone inside, just like in the real world’.
The company has one UK site in Museum Street, High Holborn, London and another in Alsfled, some 60 miles north of Frankfurt in Germany. There are seven bars in California and 11 in other US states, with five more ‘coming soon’. There are three more bars in Canada. And there are four international sites – Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai and Singapore.
Each holodeck can accommodate up to six people for shared adventures.
The SandboxVR website says: ‘By combining movie quality motion capture technology with virtual reality, we allow our guests to be anyone, go anywhere and interact with anyone inside, just like in the real world’.
A SandboxVR brochure pitch to potential franchisees says the company is ‘disrupting the future of VR entertainment in retail store locations’ and is ‘shaking up the industry and becoming the fastest growing franchise VR company in the world’. It predicts the global market for VR generally in 2024 will be worth £60 billion.
It adds: ‘SandboxVR is the first new medium of expression since the movies. Every guest leaves with a viral video of their experience that is irresistible to share on social media. The result is a business that enables each of your guests to market your business for you, allowing your business to grow virally the same way the most successful technology companies have grown’.
SandboxVR founder and CEO Steve Zhao is quoted as saying: ‘We believe this new medium is not about better movies or a more immersive game. We believe it’s something else entirely, and we as an industry will need to learn from the best of both movies and gaming’.
The Unbound Fighting League (UFL) features players who are ‘unbound by physics, reality, and your own limitations’.
How much would it cost to play?
Prices for Birmingham have not been announced. But the booking page for the London site in High Holborn said it would cost four people £200 to play Star Trek: Discovery at 9pm on Saturday, January 14.
Booking for 10.30am on Monday, January 16, would drop the price to £140. An added proviso said: ‘Pricing may vary on non-peak days’.
Training and set up takes around ten minutes and the VR experience lasts for 30 minutes. Guests should be 1.2m (48 inches) or taller to play and be able to support 20lb of gear on their backs for up to one hour. After your slot you can watch it back.
Where will it be?
Units 25A and 25B were described as ‘vacant units’ in the planning application. The unit next to ‘The Ramp’ – and opposite NatWest Bank – had never been used ever since Grand Central opened on September 24, 2015. Fashion store Select had the second unit, 25B, on the left beyond the entrance doors but closed earlier last year.
Removing the dividing wall between the two units was not a consideration when it came to the planning application. The proposal, from Grand Central Limited Partnership, said the aim was to enable ‘flexible use… to protect the unit from long term vacancy in the future (should the VR operator vacate) and upper level units would be used for ‘ancillary storage’.
Described in the planning world as ‘sui generis’ (unique), the approval granted means the 1,200 square metre premises will be able to open from 10am til 11.30pm Monday to Friday and from 9.30am-11.30pm on Saturday. Sunday and Bank Holiday opening hours will be from 9.30am til 9.30pm.
The planning officers’ final report said the Birmingham Development Plan (2017) called for future developments ‘to make a positive contribution to improving the vitality of the City Centre and should aim to improve the overall mix of uses…’.
The report added: ‘The proposed use has the potential to mainly attract shared purpose trips to the wider entertainment area and thus benefit from visits made by sustainable, alternate modes such as walking’ and it concluded: ‘It is considered that the proposal would offer an acceptable addition to the lively mixture of uses within this part of the City Centre and therefore approval is recommended subject to conditions’.
The application majored on change of use and offered provision for the site to return to retail within ten years.