Level99, “an open world game environment” planned for the Natick Mall, received the Select Board’s blessing this past week once members were satisfied that the venture could operate safely. The board approved food, alcohol, and entertainment licenses.
Level99, as we first wrote last summer, is a venture spearheaded by Matt DuPlessie, whose work through a company called 5 Wits you might be familiar with if you ever visited the now-defunct TOMB interactive space in the Fenway or the 20,000 Leagues or Espionage adventures at Patriot Place in Foxborough. Now DuPlessie & team, via engineering firm Box Fort of Norwood, are envisioning Level99 in 48,600 sq. ft. on the second level of the mall, which has been looking for non-apparel-based tenants for that space in re-imagining itself. Box Fort’s clients include museums and theme parks, to give you a sense of what you might be in for with Level99.
DuPlessie and financial partner Ron Shaich (Panera Bread’s founder) have put $11M into building out the venue over the past 8 months, transforming the former second floor of Sears. DuPlessie refers to the Natick Level99 as the “flagship” site for this venture, perhaps indicating others will be launched down the road.
Given the investment in Level99 at the mall, including all sorts of fancy computer technology to operate the 43 separate entertainment modules within the facility, DuPlessie stressed the organization’s commitment to being responsible business operators who will keep tight control on drinking by patrons. He said he has no intention of allowing a bunch of middle schoolers to run wild and mess the place up. While kids will be allowed into Level99 with a parent or guardian who is at least 25 years old, he made clear that the venue is designed for adults, and that some number of the puzzles and challenges will be too hard for most kids to do successfully.
Level99 will feature 300 seats between a taproom (Night Shift Brewing has been name-dropped in past presentations) and scratch kitchen (“elevated pub food”), as well as a beer hall, but this isn’t intended to be a place where people will just come and hang and watch a game (actually no screens for outside games). The real focus will be on the unique entertainment attractions, which include a mix of surprise and quick (1-3 minutes) physical and mental challenges designed for team play, as well as a scavenger hunt featuring 60+ pieces of art from area artists.
Projections by the outfit are that the entertainment will generate the most revenue, followed by food and then drinks. People will buy tickets that allow them to enjoy the challenges for a specified amount of time.
The main concern among the board was that the venue’s many small rooms could potentially allow patrons to sneak extra drinks or share them with underage customers. Level99 is unlike any other establishment in town in its allowance of drinking in spaces not immediately visible to management, according to Natick Police (though closed circuit cameras will be in use if needed to review action).
In the end, the board accepted assurances from Level99’s experienced team that it has a plan in place to keep customers in line without cramping their style. The board plans a 6-month check-in that syncs with license renewals.
Level99 plans to hire 75 people, and the hope is that it will help rejuvenate the mall in light of the hits it has taken from the pandemic and major tenants leaving.