The $2 billion Planet Oasis project culminates David Glimcher's unique business and philosophical journey.
David Glimcher is more than happy to talk about Planet Oasis, the $2 billion “ultimate entertainment experience” he and his partners plan to build in Delaware County. He's eager to describe how it will combine amusement-park rides, state-of-the-art athletic facilities, a lake surrounded by a sandy beach, scores of restaurants and high-end retail stores, and a world-class health and wellness center.
But first, there's a more pressing matter. He wants—no, needs—to explain his personal ethos. It's intermingled and connected to his business philosophy and vision for Planet Oasis, and combines aspects of meditation, Eastern medicine, the law of attraction and pivoting to the positive. And energy. Lots and lots of positive energy. Enough high-voltage positive energy to turn 350 vacant acres into something that could very well become a magnet for tens of thousands of visitors every year.
“I'm not like your typical developer, am I?” Glimcher asks rhetorically after he describes how energy is everywhere, including “in this pen, in this water bottle … and everything puts off an energy vibration and that's the key to living.”
The force of Glimcher's positive energy is what impressed Brandon Lowery, a principal of The Action Sports Agency. The company is part of CA Global Services, an international company with many brands, including Action Sports and CA Skateparks. “We build action sports facilities all over the world,” Lowery says.
CA Global is a partner in the Planet Oasis project and will build and operate the action sports segment. “Health and wellness are a mantra to [Glimcher], and this place is an escape from the stress and noise of society, and he wants it to be healing on a spiritual level,” Lowery says. “So much so that you'll want to come back.”
The Family Business
Glimcher grew up in the world of real estate development. His father, Herb Glimcher, came to Columbus from Boston in the late 1950s with $50 in his pocket. He started a lumber business that gradually became a real estate development company and morphed into Glimcher Realty Trust, one of the country's largest mall operators. The company built (and later sold) Polaris Fashion Place and the long list of malls it developed, including the Indian Mound and River Valley malls in Ohio.
David Glimcher went to work for his father soon after graduating from Ohio State. “We worked well together,” he says. “He's great on the construction and design side of the business, one of the best in the country, and I was great at being the face of the deal and meeting with people. He hated that part of it.”
Herb Glimcher's middle son, Rob, is a Pittsburgh-based real estate developer; youngest son, Michael, joined the family business here in Columbus.
David Glimcher became immersed in work and family (he has six children with two ex-wives). “I loved achieving things; I loved creating things … It was all consuming,” he says, adding something was missing from his life no matter how many profitable projects he built. “I was that person, all ego and narcissism; I think I came by it genetically. Then I had certain epiphanies that caused me to rethink who I was.”
The first was transcendental meditation, which he discovered decades ago. This led Glimcher on a journey of enlightenment that includes a strong belief in the healing powers of Eastern medicine and the importance of positive thinking.
“Have you ever heard of the law of attraction?” asks Glimcher, who then explains the power of “pivoting back to the positive” when you're feeling dread, doubt or fear. “My whole philosophy, the number one thing, is to help others. It's not to make money, because I know if I help others an abundance of money will come.”
And it has.
While working for and with his father, David Glimcher always had side projects in various stages of development, including several malls. He also built the popular Electric Fantasy Pizzeria on the north side of town, which combined deep-dish, Chicago-style pies and video games long before Chuck E. Cheese's. He formed a company that put video game arcades in hundreds of Kroger, 7-Eleven and UDF stores in Ohio and beyond. When the video game market died, Glimcher and his team created a way to retrofit these now-worthless machines so that they would dispense tickets based on how many points a patron scored.
The concept of combining retail, food, sports and entertainment became ingrained in Glimcher. Seeds were planted that slowly sprouted.
When Glimcher Reality Trust went public in 1994, David Glimcher decided it was time to try something new. “I hated running a public company,” he says. He eventually moved to the Phoenix area and did what he does best: real estate development deals. Many were with Tony Sekulovski, whom he had worked with in central Ohio and convinced to head west with him.
“David is a visionary, he's always analyzing the market and looking at different trends to see what's next,” says Sekulovski, one of Glimcher's partners in Blue Horseshoe Ventures, the company developing Planet Oasis. The third partner is Lenni Male. They are renting office space in New Albany and building headquarters in Gahanna.
“I saw the market moving away from traditional retail all the way back in '05,” Glimcher says. “Most people thought I was nuts. I knew there was a problem. I wasn't exactly sure what it was.”
The problem turned out to be the internet, online shopping and Amazon. Traditional malls were an endangered species.
One of Glimcher's visions was The Boulevard in Surprise, Arizona. The $100 million, 52-acre mixed-use entertainment complex opened in 2008 and had 250,000 square feet of entertainment venues, retail shops and restaurants. “It was an entertainment-based center with a movie theater with motion-based seating, like you'd find in an amusement park, the first one in the country,” he says. “And we had a bowling concept next door and laser tag.”
Next up was an expansion of the idea on 300 acres of tribal land in Arizona. “And then the market crashed,” Glimcher says, adding he spent the next few years “working out crap with the banks, us and everyone else in the [real estate development] business.”
Glimcher recently decided it was time to return to his Columbus roots. His two youngest children were attending OSU, and he was ready to jump back into central Ohio real estate development. Glimcher Realty Trust had been sold to the Washington Prime Group in 2015 for $4.3 billion and the new, merged company is WP Glimcher. Herb Glimcher is retired. Michael Glimcher, who ran the family business at the time of the sale, was named CEO of WP Glimcher. He left the company in 2016 and is now the CEO of Chicago-based mall owner Starwood Retail Partners, though Michael continues to live in central Ohio.
When David returned to central Ohio in 2016, he did some residential deals. “I'd never done residential before and wanted to learn it,” he says, “and now we're building 18 luxury condos outside Bexley.”
He and his Blue Horseshoe partners also announced in June plans to build a $50 million mixed-use development in Gahanna. Hamilton Towne Centre will include luxury apartments, a hotel, restaurants and a fitness center. It will serve as the Blue Horseshoe and Planet Oasis corporate headquarters.
“Through a third party, I was introduced to a 30-acre parcel next to [the Tanger outlet], and the idea was to do the same old, same old: A TJ Maxx and a pet store,” Glimcher says. “I looked at it and said we could do the whole entertainment idea we tried to do in Arizona right here … and we were blessed with the opportunity to control 350 acres.”
Land acquisition is Sekulovski's area of expertise; Male is the leasing whiz; Glimcher says he's the company's CVO—chief visionary officer. “Within 425 miles of this site we have 102 million people, and that doesn't include 5 million more from Canada,” Glimcher says. “Orlando only has 35 million [within 425 miles] and Los Angeles only has 47 million.” Glimcher envisions Planet Oasis as a destination for all of these millions of people.
Bob Lamb, the Delaware County development director, is optimistic Glimcher is on target. “This brings a whole new venue and diversifies the already great things here, with new amenities that haven't been here on this scale,” he says.
Not everyone is thrilled with the Planet Oasis concept. Some local residents created the Protect Delaware County from Planet Oasis page on Facebook. They expressed concern over the increase in traffic and say the project “will greatly reduce the quality of life of its citizens.”
Lamb compared Planet Oasis to the Easton Town Center—but on an even bigger, grander and more diverse scale. “[Planet Oasis] would take what Easton has done to the next level, bring in 15,000 jobs and transform that interchange [routes 71 and 36/37] into a destination that pulls people in,” he says.
Lamb says the necessary infrastructure, Route 71 interchange and utility development necessary for such a massive project is “more than doable” and added that Planet Oasis “should not require any zoning changes and the developer is welcome to move forward with other development reviews so construction can begin, such as design standard review and construction permitting.”
Glimcher is even more optimistic and is filled with seemingly unlimited positive energy for the project. “With most development deals, you have to go through the [zoning] process,” he says. “We're blessed to have had someone already do that for us. … We can start building tomorrow.”
Tomorrow might be a little too much positive thinking, and the more realistic plan is “we'll be moving dirt by the end of the year,” Glimcher says, adding all the necessary financing is in place. “[Planet Oasis] will be built in phases and take 36 months for everything to open. But once we're at 75 percent, the perception will be that it's complete.”
Planet Oasis will be unique. But whatever you do, don't call it an amusement park, as some media outlets did after the June 28 press conference announcing the project.
The confusion arose because “we have four or five attractions that are amusement-park attractions, like a sky wheel and a rollercoaster and a fly-over ride,” Glimcher says. “But we're the largest entertainment, food and beverage, action sports and health and wellness venue in the country.”
The developers announced in August that the complex will include a $10 million e-sports arena.
Planet Oasis also will have a 15- to 20-acre salt-water lake surrounded by beaches. “We'll give people a west coast or east coach beach experience right here in the Midwest,” Glimcher says. “There will be a couple of hotels [around the lake] and a bubble section so you can use it 365 days a year, with a boardwalk around it and the ability to enclose it if there's inclement weather.”
Lowery says the Action Sports District will include “50-plus projects,” including world-class facilities such as the skatepark, BMX racing facility, indoor surfing venue and climbing facility. “These will be elite-level facilities capable of hosting world-class events.” Not by coincidence, sport climbing, skateboarding, BMX racing and surfing will all be new sports introduced at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
And then there's Bloom, the health and wellness center. “Bloom? It's about life, it's about the future, it's about energy,” Glimcher says. He says Bloom will be the largest alternative medicine, integrated medicine health and wellness center in the country “and will probably be of the top five in the world. It will have a boutique hotel, like Canyon Ranch [a destination health spa in Tucson], but on steroids, and we're building a lab and science team led by world-class scientists inventing new products.”
The Bloom lab will be led by James Yiannios, president and CEO of Vitasome, a California-based company that makes all-natural dietary supplements. “We will be developing new forms of plant- and herb-based products and therapies to provide relief and healing for patients worldwide,” Yiannios says. He is also a Planet Oasis partner.
While other developers are combining restaurants, retail and entertainment in their projects, “They can't get all the pieces,” Glimcher says. “They can't get Action Sports [and Yiannios]. That's the reason we positioned ourselves like this. We knew the health and wellness and action sports [components] were the barometers of the future, and we protected ourselves.”
Glimcher, Sekulovski and Male have big plans for additional Planet Oasis projects. “We're looking at three or four more cities in this country; we've already designated them,” Glimcher says. “Markets that have 40 million or more people within a 425-mile radius, excluding Los Angeles and Orlando, because they're already Disney and Universal hubs.”
What city or region fit this demographic wish list? How about Chicago?
“That's already in our [central Ohio] market,” Glimcher says.
Dallas or Houston?
“That's a good guess,” Glimcher says. “Here's the other ones that I'll say…”
“Don't tell him, don't tip off the other developers,” Male interrupts.
But there's no stopping Glimcher when he's on a roll. He mentions China and Australia as possible locations. “[The Planet Oasis] concept will positively influence the entire world,” he says. “Your health and wellness, mentally and physically, you'll have the opportunity to do it all here.”
How's that for positive thinking?***
Q&A with David Glimcher:
How much of the $2 billion investment in Planet Oasis will come from Blue Horseshoe Ventures?
Whatever we need to. We have all of our funding put together. I've always dealt with Wall Street, never the California guys before. [One of the investors] was an ex-Disney guy, and he said, “The theme park industry is flat, everyone's looking for the next big thing and you've created it.” That validated the concept for me.
How will you develop such a large project?
The easiest way to look at this isn't as an immense project, but it's really 80 small projects. We'll do a Starbucks and a Chipotle, and find other developers who will develop them. We are developing the whole action sports center and the health and wellness center with our partners. We're developing the action sports center with [CA Global Services, a group of companies that includes The Action Sports Agency]. They'll be the designers and operators of the sports district.
How many hotels will there be?
We'll have 5,000 hotel rooms in 20-plus hotels. Everything from $50 a night to a suite on the lake for $800 in a boutique hotel. People can come here and walk around, spend two hours and have lunch or spend a few days or a week. Or a month. People will want to be here.
Why include a health and wellness center?
We all live in an environment filled with tension, stress and anxiety. And we're bombarded with information 24/7. Planet Oasis will be an escape, an escape from Planet Earth.
My whole philosophy, the No. 1 thing, is to help others. It's not to make money, because I know if I help others an abundance of money will come.
Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer.