You can’t miss AREA15 in Las Vegas if you drive anywhere on I-15, parallel to the strip. On one side of the cab are the backs of famous casino hotels. On the other, out of a vast emptiness of anonymous warehouses appears the mother of all vast featureless warehouses. It looks like it’s three stories tall and a mile long. At first you might think it’s an Amazon distribution center, but there are no trucks. And on the other end of the building is art for Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart, AREA15’s anchor tenant, which has been relentlessly marketing its attraction in California airports.
Blooloop, the location-based entertainment trade magazine, announced last month that Las Vegas’ AREA15 has been named the most visited attraction in the nation. The multimedia attraction and experience mall won a category that includes museums like the African American Museum and New York’s Natural History Museum, but it is much more than that. AREA15 features a diverse array of curated art installations, concept bars, and themed restaurants, including a distillery. Activities include zip lines, VR experiences, arcade games, ax-throwing, and a golf simulator. The twenty-acre grounds that surround the facility are big enough to accommodate outdoor events, festivals, and concerts from well-known acts. According to Placer.ai data Area15 attracted 3.23 million visitors in 2022.
Outside of the main entrance is AREA15’s Art Island are large scale outdoor art pieces. The most dominant of these is Mechan 9, a massive robot half-buried in the concrete pad, as if he fell from the sky. It was created by TFC, a Portland, Oregon-based collective spearheaded by Tyler Fuqua. Nearby is Valyrian Steel, a kinetic “art car” originally built for Burning Man by Henry Chang, a local Las Vegas artist. Nearby I see a sign promoting Block Party weekends, with food trucks, drink specials, liftoff rides, and a DJ. Even with a wingless DC-3 in the parking lot, this is still a retail entertainment business. You’ve got to give them something new, something to talk about, a reason to come back.
I met co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Michael Beneville at the taco truck between Art Island and the parking lot. It’s five o’clock. I’m a little early, so I grabbed a lunch late enough to be an early dinner. Beneville is the founder and CEO of Beneville Studios, a creative consultancy firm that conceptualizes immersive experiences in physical spaces. Beneville Studios have been creative consultants for the award-winning iHeartMedia headquarters in New York, the reimagined Empire State Building visitors experience, and the Warner Music Group offices in LA.You can tell from looking around that someone is a burner. It’s him, Beneville.
The project’s slogan “AREA15 Does Not Exist” is a nod to the adjacent Interstate 15, Fisher Brothers’ founding in 1915, and the mysterious Area 51. But it also reflects co-founder and CEO Winston Fisher’s desire to create something original and different. Beneville described the moment he and Fisher looked over the vast empty lot his real estate company had acquired and started thinking about what a futuristic entertainment mall would look like in Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world.
“We didn’t come up with the idea for AREA15 and go searching for a place to build it. We began with a partner’s empty lot and the challenge of what to put across the highway from one of the world’s most magnetic entertainment capitals,” said Beneville. “What would break the gravitational pull of the Strip? AREA15 is the product of that process. This is a story about a creative collaboration 10x-ing a $10/square foot warehouse district with creativity and risk.”
AREA15’s anchor tenant is Omega Mart by Meow Wolf, the art collective famous for its The House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe. In this satirical take on consumerism and corporate greed, you’re invited to explore, read labels and discover clues related to background characters and participate in an ersatz employee training program. The supermarket has all the accouterments of your local Ralph’s: oppressive fluorescent lighting, industrial shelving, refrigerators for dairy, and bins for produce. At $50 – $70 it’s not cheap, either.
Kevin Williams, Director of Research & Development at Spider Entertainment, has been following AREA15 since its plans were first revealed nearly a decade ago. “The mall-style approach that the Fisher Brothers have brought to location-based entertainment has proven to be a success,” says Williams. “Malls used to be for shopping, but today they are a destination for hospitality, music, and immersive social entertainment experiences that attract locals and tourists.” AREA15 is expanding. In March of 2022, Fisher Brothers acquired land along I-4 in Orlando and placed a giant robot on it, literally planting a flag. The 17-acre parcel is between Disney and Universal’s theme parks.
Beneville took me through one of his favorite original attractions, Wink World, created by Blue Man Group co-founder Chris Wink. We walked through a series of eight rooms. Each uses infinity mirrors, wind (fans), slinkies, and even spinning pieces of construction paper. The mirrors, music, and lighting turned these mundane objects into spinning 3D fantasies. “I love the simplicity of the illusion,” Beneville told me. “That’s the magic. Imagination is more important than technology here.”
There is a huge indoor black box for events and performances and a huge outdoor area and stage that can hold 5,000 people. During my visit, it was showing “Georgia O’Keefe – 100 Flowers,” an immersive experience that seeks to bring O’Keeffe’s iconic images and signature style to life beyond the canvas.
Every AREA15 experience, from the bars, entertainment, food, every detail, is curated by Beneville, who started his career as a performer. “We have to be constantly changing. Something new should always be coming, and if people don’t do it, even if we love it, that’s ok, we move on to something new.” Unlike the VR entertainment center, The VOID, which closed two years ago, AREA15 is not dependent on the success of any one attraction.
AREA15 feels like a mall, I observed, but the stores have all been replaced by entertainment options. There are only two actual retail stores, an offbeat toy and candy store, Kappa Toys, and Wild Muse, which is what they call their “merchandise boutique.” As you would expect, I was tempted to buy a tee shirt. They should have a lot more curated retail. Beneville readily agreed.
We did not go into Illuminarium, which occupies a giant warehouse space next to AREA15. It is a separate ticketed warehouse mixed reality experience. If Meow Wolf is the anchor tenant inside, then Illuminarium is the anchor tenant outside the main building complex, in the AREA15 District.
AREA15 has big plans for the acreage it owns on the twenty-acre site offering more attractions, entertainment retail, and F&B. The anchor tenant will be a year-round horror experience from Universal Parks & Resorts, Halloween Horror Nights. In an exclusive interview with Blooloop, Fisher said the new experience is going to be “badass” and will have guests “smiling and screaming.”
Charlie Fink is the author of the AR-enabled books “Metaverse,” (2017) and “Convergence” (2019). In the early 90s, Fink was EVP & COO of VR pioneer Virtual World Entertainment. He teaches at Chapman University in Orange, CA.