May 22, 2014

Go-karts replace retail merchandise in Clovis shopping mall

Former Gottschalks space is turned into a raceway at Sierra Vista Mall.

In a twist on the typical mall tenant, an indoor go-kart racetrack has opened in Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis.

MB2 Raceway opened quietly Wednesday in 60,000 square feet of the former Gottschalks department store.

Now electric go-karts zip around a track at speeds topping out at 40 to 45 mph. For between $18 to $23, drivers make 14 laps around the quarter-mile, air-conditioned track, competing for the fastest time.

MB2 is also an event venue that can host birthday parties and corporate events for up to 90 people.

This is the fourth go-kart track for MB2. It has had two Southern California tracks, in Sylmar and Thousand Oaks, for about seven years. The company opened a track in Des Moines -- prime NASCAR country -- about a month ago, said Gary Custer, director of sales and marketing.

But the Clovis mall location is change for the company.

"It's the first time we've ever done it inside a mall. Typically we're in ... industrial parks," he said. "The fact that this is in an indoor mall is light years ahead."

Being in a mall held a special appeal compared to MB2's usual locations, Custer said. The mall has plenty of parking, lots of outdoor lighting, and movies, restaurants and shopping that customers can combine with a spin around the track, he said.

The MB2 tracks in other cities get at least 600 customers on weekdays, Custer said.

The 100,000-square-foot Gottschalks space has been empty since 2009. Clovis had to modify some city codes and grant a conditional-use permit for MB2 to open in the space.

Sierra Vista Mall general manager Greg Newman said the shopping center could have landed a big-box retailer for the space, but wanted something with greater draw. Malls are increasingly evolving to include entertainment, such as hosting concerts or adding theaters, he said.

"If we were going to do this, let's just go way out of the box," he said. "It's going to create a lot of excitement. ... People will come from all around."

Since the recession, stores at malls and elsewhere are being converted to different uses, whether it's gyms, churches or entertainment, said Steve Rontell, a Fresno retail broker with Colliers International.

"Retail anchor spaces are not retail anchor spaces anymore," he said.

But Thursday, customers were focused solely on the racing. Raul Vizcarra, 25, of Fresno, said he's been to other go-kart tracks in the Valley, but they're outdoors -- and hot.

"This is really nice," he said of MB2. "We've been following it for about a year and waiting for it to open."

Competition is keen, as racers' names appear on a big screen and top racers scores are posted online.

The go-karts use batteries and are all electric -- with zip more like a Tesla than a Prius, says general manager Chris Robbins. They're charged by plugging into the wall.

The lack of emissions means the karts can be used indoors and the venue can be air conditioned and heated.

Hard plastic barriers line the track, cushioning racers who crash. Workers have remotes that can slow or stop individual racers or everyone on the track when crashes or spinouts happen. MB2 also provides helmets.

Customers need to be at least 12 years old and 57 inches tall for the full-size karts. MB2 has smaller carts for kids at least 48 inches tall.

It employs more than 20 people.

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