Let's start the New Year with some good news. You could have knocked us over with a feather when we read a recent story in The Houston Chronicle bearing the headline: "Entertainment Center Could Win Final Approval of Mo City Officials." Reporter Leen LaRicci dropped this bombshell in her very first sentence: "City Council members like the idea of teenagers having a place to go to have fun in Missouri City."
What? Come again? We thought city councils always had a knee-jerk reaction against arcades. (You know, those seedy, dark places where gangs, drug dealers, pedophiles and other seedy characters lurk.) But no! It seems that Missouri City (population 60,000) sees cultural uplift and - dare we say it? , socially redeeming value in a properly run FEC.
According to the Chronicle, the council voted unanimously last month to grant preliminary approval for a planned 3.4 acre indoor-outdoor center to be called Fun Zone. The obvious question is: Why? "We have needed something like this for a long, long time," said mayor Allen Owen. One resident explained that the town's only entertainment is a movie theater and a pizza joint.
Perhaps Fun Zone's family-friendly concept also had something to do with it. Plans call for a large go-kart track, 36-hole mini-golf, games, snack bar, three party rooms, and , oh, yes , a 20-ft. volcano. (We understand it's possible to get a variance for a volcano from the city planning office in Las Vegas, but we don't advise anyone to try it in, say, Los Angeles.)
One more shocker, and you'll want to hold onto your seat for this one. The mayor of Missouri City actually said that Fun Zone's hours are not any of the city's business. Good grief, if this gets out, it could start a revolution! Countless civic officials across the United States are under the impression they cannot only decide if, when, or where a business opens, but also when it may remain open, who may patronize it, what color paint should be on its walls, and how many inches high the paper-roll dispensers should be above the bathroom floor.
According to Mayor Owen, city fathers will let the arcade run pretty much whenever it wants. Officials will put the burden squarely on parents to control their own kids' schedules (which means parental policing of teen compliance with the town's Thursday-Sunday curfew). "It is the parents' responsibility to know where their kids are at the different times," Owen said. Somebody should send this guy a bouquet of roses. Hasn't he been paying attention to what's gone on in this country for the past 20 years?
Apparently not. Neither have large numbers of other government officials. While Owen has been blithely ignoring the Big Brotherism of his fellow politicians, many other government officials have apparently decided our industry's products are anti-social, and that our locations are unredeeming at best, unsafe at worst.
Frank Seninsky of Alpha-Omega (E. Brunswick, NJ), lets off some steam on this topic in his "Crankin' With Frank" column this month. When it comes to safety concerns, says Frank, there is a widespread double standard working against this industry. This double standard is provably unjustified. Nevertheless, it contributes to onerous regulation, excessive insurance rates, and anti-industry prejudice by government. That's why the Missouri City government's pro-arcade stance is so striking, and refreshing.Speaking of a refreshing atmosphere for arcades: readers may enjoy our feature story on FECs. It seems the U.S. amusements industry is the target of potshots launched by certain of our Aussie counterparts (including at least one American industry pro who now works in the Land Down Under). The charge is that Yanks have allowed arcades to go "stale." A quick glance at the American FEC scene confirms that innovation is alive and well as we launch in 2005.