Quick, name the latitude line on the globe that runs closest to Pittsburgh.
What's a latitude line?
The point is that Latitude 40, a 65,000-square-foot entertainment and restaurant complex scheduled to open Tuesday in North Fayette, takes its name from the lines used to mark how far north or south a place sits from the equator.
A company out of Jacksonville, Fla., that calls itself Latitude Global Inc. launched its first version of these family-friendly, corporate-friendly, restaurant-music-arcade-bowling-comedy-dance venues in January 2011 with Latitude 30 in its hometown. Two more are being built -- Latitude 39 in Indianapolis and Latitude 42 in Chicago -- and set to open within months.
Latitude Global officials have three more locations in the works, all of which should either open or begin construction next year, said Brent W. Brown, founder, CEO and chairman. The company's mission calls for opening 10 venues within three years.
Inside the Pittsburgh version, the concept -- although still a serious construction project Thursday -- lays out as a place that could keep customers entertained for hours.
"The whole purpose of our concept is just that, is to keep people here," said Mr. Brown, as he ducked ladders and stepped around game machines like Terminator and Big Bass Wheel that hadn't been plugged in yet. The games sat in an arcade area outside a small movie theater that could show the latest James Bond flick (a few weeks after the initial release) or a corporate film for a business gathering as the viewers dine.
Customers walking in the front door will see the 360 Grille restaurant to the left, a sports bar to the right and a bowling alley ahead (fashionable bowling shoes available).
Upstairs, after passing by a central broadcast booth that controls the technology used in every corner of the place, the designers have placed another bowling alley, a club area that can host bands or a DJ, as well as a theater setting called Latitude Live that will have a high-definition LED wall to create different settings for comedians or to project business presentations.
There are several meeting rooms, including two that open on an outdoor patio with a firepit, and there are strategically placed water walls to help control sound levels between areas.
The space is meant to be flexible. Mr. Brown said it took almost a year to design the flow properly so that the two kitchens -- one on each level -- had doors where necessary to keep food coming to all the different gathering spots.
Groups will be able to use different combinations of sections, depending on the kind of event they want, whether it's a birthday party or a sales meeting.
Regular customers out on a Saturday night also can wander in for a while, picking and choosing what they want to do. What they spend could vary widely, but Mr. Brown said the average would run about $24 a person.
Mr. Brown, a 1987 Montour High School grad who went on to the Naval Academy and then into real estate and investing, has been working on this concept since about 2007.
He was intrigued by the growth of upscale bowling venues, such as those from the Lucky Strikes chain that had a location at the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer for a while, and adult-oriented entertainment chains like Dave & Buster's, which has a location at The Waterfront shopping center in Homestead.
In December 2008, Mr. Brown was checking out one facility and noted a grandmother bowling and then returning to high-five a grandchild as the child's parents waited to take their turn. "That's when the light went off," he said, embracing the idea of creating a place that different generations would all find something to do.
Not long after, he signed a letter of intent to convert a former Toys 'R' Us store.
That was just after the financial market meltdown that meant funding for a start-up was scarce.
"It was a struggle," Mr. Brown admitted. At this point, the private company has pulled together 135 shareholders as well as deals with a real estate investment trust and with lender Fifth Third Bancorp to help finance growth.
Eventually, the plan calls for taking the business public, he said.
The first location helped management tweak the concept to adapt to its customers. Mr. Brown said 72 percent of sales were generated by food and beverages, reinforcing the decision to serve food a step above that found in many entertainment centers. He claims the pork chops, the flatiron steak and the salmon are all great, as is the pizza.
About 25 percent to 30 percent of revenue is generated by group events. In the first year, the Jacksonville location did about $1.7 million worth of corporate events and this year that number is expected to rise to $2.5 million.
Pittsburgh's advance work has included more than 50 hard-hat tours with local corporations. December is a particularly big month for company events, so the push is on to be ready.
Depending on the size of the location, he said Latitude venues can be expected to pull in between $8 million and $16 million a year in revenue. The Pittsburgh site employs about 190.
Locals will recognize the North Fayette site on Quinn Drive as a former Roomful Express store, and the abundance of empty big boxes in prime locations has been a big help. "In a normal real estate market, we'd be scratching and clawing to get this much space and this much parking in this location," said Mr. Brown.
In Chicago, the company is taking part of a movie theater that doesn't need as many screens as it once did.
He doesn't expect the real estate opportunities to dry up anytime soon, as the economy takes its time recovering and as retailers decide they don't need such big spaces as some sales shift online.
The Latitude management also is working to align with sports teams, giving it opportunities to host events and bring in fans. Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis has done an autograph session at the Jacksonville site, Mr. Brown said, and New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow was recently seen there as a customer.
Pittsburgh is a big sports market, too. "We've already met with the Steelers a few times," said Mr. Brown, who has hopes of building a solid relationship with the team.
Teresa F. Lindeman: email@example.com or 412-263-2018. First Published November 9, 2012 5:00 AM