NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Adrian Griffin could have taken his business anywhere.
Griffin said he could have continued his expansion of ninja warrior adventure parks in the United Kingdom and set up shops in Germany or Australia.
But when it came down to it, there was really only one place he wanted to be in — California. Specifically near Newport Beach, California.
“The only reason this whole thing is happening is that I like California, but I love Newport Beach,” said Griffin during a media preview of the American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park to Spectrum News Thursday. “For me, it’s a lifestyle change.”
Griffin, the CEO of American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park, and company manager Matt Tofts have opened the first of what they believe are many American Ninja Warrior Adventure Parks, and it’ll be coming to a mall near you.
The two have built a simplified, tone down, and inflatable version of the hit NBC “American Ninja Warrior” television show in a 17,000-square-foot space on the second floor inside the MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana.
Tofts said that NBC receives royalties and helps with the design.
The room, formerly four vacant retail storefronts, is divided into two main obstacle course sections: Much like the television show, under bright purple and yellow lights, visitors can climb up the monkey swings, navigate through the spider walls, balance on the tilting logs, hang on the floating bridges and attempt to run up a warped wall in one section.
Many of the obstacles have been adjusted because of the mall ceiling height restrictions, said Griffin. And unlike on television, there’s no splash zone where competitors fall if they fail a course.
There’s also a 10,000-square-foot inflatable section for those interested in running — or bouncing — around a simpler, kid-friendly obstacle course with slides and a battle beam.
“This is a great way for the whole family to be involved,” said Tofts, pointing out that many teens and adults can navigate the ninja warrior course while smaller kids can have fun in the inflatable room.
The ninja section can also be interchangeable with new courses coming in. Visitors pay about $20 an hour to tackle the course.
Griffin said since the news of their arrival came out, mall operators and landlords have been inundating their email inboxes to open one at their location.
“Since the news broke, we’ve had every landlord sending us emails,” said Griffin. “It’s been smashing.”
The concept comes as malls nationwide struggle to lure and keep tenants amid the coronavirus pandemic. Even before the pandemic, malls faced a changing shopping landscape as shoppers switched to the ease of buying items online, creating a slew of closures from traditional small and big-box stores during the so-called retail apocalypse.
Some news reports said the pandemic accelerated the mall’s demise.
Last year, malls nationwide faced historically high vacancies. According to Moody’s Analytics, in April 2021, regional and super-regional malls had a record 11.4% vacancy rate. According to the New York Times, citing analytics firm Green Street, there are an estimated 750 vacant anchor spaces at the 1,000 malls the company tracks.
Things have improved as stay-at-home restrictions eased, and vaccination rates have increased.
People want to go out. But many malls are still struggling, said Scott Burns, a senior managing director at the Los Angeles office of JLL, a commercial real estate services company. Burns was not involved in the American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park deal.
“The malls have been under pressure,” said Burns in an interview with Spectrum News. “We lost quite a few operators during the pandemic and even leading up to it. There was a lot of consolidation and some didn’t make it. A lot of these malls are overbuilt. Shopping habits have changed. People don’t go to malls often because they can shop from home.”
Burns said mall landlords need to give people a reason to come in and shop.
And the American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park could help mall landlords attract people back to their regional malls.
“We’re seeing a lot of these types of entertainment, eatertainment (dining and entertainment), and experiential operators,” said Burns. “It’s been very active in the last 12 months.”
He predicts the American Ninja Warrior Adventure Park will be a great success. These types of attractions increase foot traffic and dwell time in the mall.
“It’s a new concept in our market, but it comes with an instant brand recognition,” said Burns. “Everyone is going to want to see it.”
"Adding this exciting new top-of-the-line entertainment venue is a perfect example of a leasing strategy focused on creative first-to-market concepts that connect with the community in new and meaningful ways," said Jonathan Maher, Centennial Vice President of Property Management in a statement. Centennial is the owner of the MainPlace Mall.
Griffin and British television partner ITV opened the first Ninja Warrior UK park in Wigan, a town in Greater Manchester, in 2018.
The concept grew quickly, with 14 Ninja Warrior UK parks across the United Kingdom now open. There are another two slated to open in the next few weeks and four in the pipeline to be constructed.
Griffin said each location attracts 200,000 to 250,000 visitors a year.
Griffin and Tofts said the goal in the U.S. is to open over 100 American Ninja Warrior Adventure Parks in the next five years.
The two wouldn’t say where a second location would open or where else they were exploring.
For Griffin, Southern California is where he wanted to be. He loves the outdoor lifestyle and the marine landscape.
“[It’s] at the opposite end of the spectrum from what I’m used to in Manchester, England,” he said.
When Griffin expanded his business empire outside of the United Kingdom, Griffin took out a map and analyzed all the malls within a 15 to 25-mile range from Newport Beach, and found a perfect fit at the MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana.
“It’s a great location with great visibility and freeway access,” said Griffin. “It’s a family-friendly area, great demographics, and next to a lot of great attractions.”
Griffin said his goal was to make an inclusive place where the average Joe and Jane can channel his or her inner ninja skills and have fun.
During the media preview, several visitors wore headbands and gloves as they tackled the various ninja warrior courses. The park opened Friday.
Soon, to keep visitors returning, they are adding tech features such as a time element so people know how fast they complete each course and a leaderboard on a television screen to track how quickly others finish.
Griffin said he wanted to expand in the U.S. four years ago, but the pandemic delayed it for two years. It was actually good timing.
“It ended up happening at the right time because families have been pent up and are looking to go out and enjoy themselves again,” he said.