Sugar Land Town Square will soon be home to a brand-new “experiential entertainment” attraction.
Department of Wonder, described as an “entertainment concept that combines interactive theater with emerging technologies to create an immersive fantasy of exploration and discovery,” is slated to open early next year at the 9,600-square-foot space recently vacated by Z Gallerie, at 2180 Lone Star Drive.
The new company has signed a 10-year lease with Sugar Land Town Square, said Department of Wonder President Kyle Clark.
The venue was initially slated to open earlier this year, but it was delayed due to the pandemic, Clark said.
The attraction will embed visitors in a developing story that they can influence as they roam through a number of unique spaces for one hour, where they interact with both a physical and digital reality.
“You’re given this special lantern, (which is a) way-finding device, and you’re charged with the goal of collecting light,” Clark said. “We will (have a) purpose for that; there’s a reason you need to collect light.”
He compared it to an escape room but without the need to solve puzzles to advance.
“But there is a real sense of discovery, and we like to say you're rewarded for being curious,” Clark said. “So, the more things you do and the more you engage with the environment, the more you get back, the more things you’ll find.”
For comparisons, he offered the immersive theater Sleep No More in New York as well as Meow Wolf, which originated in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and has locations in Las Vegas and Denver.
“It's this mix of film, games and immersive theater,” he said. “(It’s a) very, very new form of entertainment. This has not been done in many places.”
Clark said he formed Department of Wonder in Dallas earlier this year after working on the concept for about the past two years with business partners Brandon Oldenburg, Limbert Fabian, Taylor Williams and Rickey Crum.
It comes after a 25-year career in film and animation, including roles with Microsoft, Sony Pictures and George Lucas-founded Industrial Light & Magic.
Clark and others launched Flight School Studios in 2017, out of which they then conceived Department of Wonder.
Sugar Land Town Square made sense for their first venue, Clark said, because of its outdoor, walkable layout. But it ultimately came down to the support from the city; Houston-based Lionstone Investments, which owns Sugar Land Town Square; and Dallas-based Rebees, which manages the 32-acre town center.
“They were progressive enough to know that this kind of concept is important to real estate,” Clark said.
He estimates Department of Wonder will host 140,000 visitors a year. Ticket prices will be from $18 to $30, depending on day and time.
The space is currently being built out by Missouri City-based design-build company Studio M6, while Flight School Studios is developing the set and digital content in Dallas.
Last year, Flight School held a temporary mixed-reality installation called “Santa’s Magi-Sphere” at the Town Square, which returned this year as part of Santa’s Sugar Land and runs through Dec. 23.
Houston-based Lionstone Investments and Rebees are currently remodeling Sugar Land Town Square to include new landscaping, branding and signage, re-faced tenant storefronts, event programming, food and beverage, retail and entertainment merchants, and implementation of new technology.
The redesign is intended to cater to local entrepreneurs and original dining and retail concepts.
Clark said Department of Wonder is also planning a second location — though he declined to say where — for which he hopes construction will start in the spring.
The plan is to open more venues throughout the United States over the next four or five years, he said.