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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 6 years ago

A perfect game

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Patrick Ciniello, president of bowling-equipment giant QubicaAMF, plans to build a new generation of bowling centers in Fort Myers as a showcase for his company's newest equipment. Customers from around the world will come visit.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

When is the last time a new bowling alley opened in your neighborhood?

In the Fort Myers-Naples area, it's been 25 years. So you might wonder why Patrick Ciniello is opening a new bowling alley in Fort Myers to be called HeadPinz.

This won't be an ordinary bowling alley because Ciniello is president of QubicaAMF, one of the largest manufacturers of bowling equipment in the world. With $110 million in sales last year, QubicaAMF has installed equipment in more than 10,000 amusement centers around the world.

“This is going to be a showcase for QubicaAMF,” says Ciniello, a Naples resident who has been inducted in the Bowling Hall of Fame. “This is our latest, greatest equipment,” he says. “My sales people are excited about it.”

QubicaAMF, which is now headquartered in Richmond, Va., will be flying customers into Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers to tour the facility once it's completed by December. The 45,000-square-foot building will be located on Treeline Avenue one mile north of the airport.

“Pat is an icon in bowling,” says Keith Hamilton, publisher of several bowling industry magazines, including Bowlers Journal International and Bowling Center Management.

Hamilton says the bowling industry is buzzing about the new center, which will feature 24 synthetic lanes that can change color and ambiance using lights and computers, convertible furniture and a new ball-return and scoring system. Special lighting will project images onto the lanes, such as rivers or lava.

Although bowling will be the main draw, the idea is to attract other people who might prefer another entertainment activity. In addition to bowling, there will be a two-story laser tag area, a ropes course, more than 50 arcade games and a restaurant and two bars. “The only thing constant is change,” smiles Ciniello, 68.

Adapting to change
Hamilton says the industry is adapting to changes in tastes for entertainment. For example, organized league play has been on the decline, but more people bowl. “Seventy million people bowl at least once a year, more than ever before,” Hamilton says. “What you're seeing is a new group of people coming into bowling centers for entertainment, for the ambiance, for a martini, for comfy couches, that we would never have seen before.”

Ciniello and others are turning bowling centers into a family entertainment centers where they can sample a range of games, eat a good steak dinner or enjoy a drink in an upscale bar. “It's a very exciting time for the bowling business,” he says.

Indeed, Ciniello leads a company called Bowland Centers that operates six bowling centers in Charlotte, Collier and Lee counties. Last year, Bowland acquired Friendship Lanes in Cape Coral and renamed it HeadPinz Cape Coral.
Friendship Lanes was a traditional bowling alley with 24 lanes. After he bought it for an undisclosed price by using seller financing, Ciniello took out six lanes to make way for a large game room. “Let's test this model out,” Ciniello recalls. In addition, he obtained a liquor license and built out the kitchen to serve better food.

“We out-grossed revenues on 18 lanes compared with what they were doing on 24 lanes,” Ciniello says. “We saw very nice increases in food and beverage.” He expects HeadPinz Cape Coral to double the previous owners' revenues within three years.

New bowling center
Ciniello had planned to build HeadPinz in Fort Myers several years ago, but Lee County's taxes on new construction were prohibitively high. At the time, it would have cost Ciniello nearly $500,000 worth of impact fees to build the bowling center.

When Lee County commissioners decided to slash taxes on new construction last year by 80%, Ciniello brushed off his plans for the new center. “It sparked the interest again,” says Ciniello.

What's more, the conversion of the Cape Coral bowling alley into an entertainment center had successfully proved itself. “We felt this was the right model,” Ciniello says.

Using financing from Encore Bank, First National Bank of the Gulf Coast and the U.S. Small Business Administration, Ciniello arranged the funds for the $7.5 million project. “The economy in Florida has improved,” Ciniello says.

In addition to being close to the airport, HeadPinz Fort Myers will be located near the 14,000-student Florida Gulf Coast University, Gulf Coast Town Center mall and JetBlue Park, the new spring training facility for the Boston Red Sox. Already a destination area, Ciniello says research shows people are willing to drive as far as 30 miles to an entertainment center, three times the distance they're willing to drive just to go bowling. “All the indicators were there,” Ciniello says.

Laser tag
As the showcase for QubicaAMF, the 24 bowling lanes can be divided into three separate settings so that they can create separate ambiance for groups of eight lanes. The furniture too can be reassembled to accommodate groups of different sizes.

Ciniello hints at the new technology coming to bowling. “We can put images on the lanes,” he says. “There's not one in the U.S.”

“Bowling is the anchor to the facility,” Ciniello says about the new Fort Myers HeadPinz he's building. But the game will only account for 35% of the total space.

“This is more about fun,” says Ciniello. There will be a zip line, laser tag, a ropes course and arcade games with prizes. The seriously competitive bowling leagues will probably prefer to bowl elsewhere, he acknowledges. “The industry is changing a lot,” he says.

The 1,800-square-foot kitchen will be able to cater steak and shrimp meals for its restaurant, to be called Nemo's Sports Cafe, as well as large groups. “We plan on doing corporate events,” says Ciniello, who will hire 80 to 100 people to staff the facility.

But it's not all going to be modern. In a nostalgic touch, Ciniello will include four lanes built to resemble some of the first bowling alleys. Pin boys will replace the fallen pins, just as they did in the early 1900s. “Bowling is the love of my life,” Ciniello says.

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