Business offers Great Escape

Rick Kuhns has always fantasized about providing Port Orchard with a place families could gather for fun in a safe environment.

And a recent trip to Buffalo, N.Y., has given him that opportunity.

“It’s been a dream of mine ever since my kids were young,” Kuhns said, “to have something around here for families because there really wasn’t a big variety of things to do.”

Kuhns, an engineer at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard since 1977, began the pursuit of this dream in 1998 when he purchased The Batter’s Box, an indoor batting facility in downtown Bremerton. There was no opportunity to expand the business in that location, so he closed it in 2002 and began to pursue other locations and possibilities.

“In July of 2003, I traveled with an associate to Buffalo to investigate the feasibility of opening a laser-tag business equipped by Lasertron, a premier laser-tag manufacturer,” Kuhns said.

That process has led to The Great Escape, 4,000-square-foot laser-tag arena with batting cages, an indoor pitching area for baseball and fastpitch, video and redemption games, air hockey, ping pong, pool tables, and interactive inflatables in the South Kitsap Mall.

Kuhns is the principal owner and he will have Steve Quy and Gerardo Fuentes as managers. The plan is to have a soft opening by the end of the month and a grand opening in June.

“Obviously, from a business standpoint, we’d like to be open by the end of school,” Kuhns said. “That really enhances it and gets the families knowing that something’s here and there’s things for kids to do.”

Kuhn said he plans to hire a staff of about 20, including many part-time jobs set aside for teenagers.

The Great Escape will occupy the southern end of the Mall property, in the building that was once known as The Cove.

And Quy and Kuhns are well aware of the reputation that comes along with that particular location.

“When we came in here, there was so much they had done that we had to undo,” Quy said. “We’re well aware of the obstacle of having to overcome that image, but we will. We are going to offer a place that’s fun and safe and open to anyone that wants to come in and have fun.”

They said they’re not worried about losing business because of past events. Instead, they are hoping to play a larger role in the community.

The first step is installing computers in a work area in the front of the building. Quy said they want to encourage students to use the area for an after-school study hall and are thinking about setting up a program that rewards troubled students with Laser Tag coupons for academic advancement.

“We’re also going to teach some character-building classes and some spiritual classes,” said Quy, a former youth pastor. “We opened this as an outreach to kids. We want it to be a safe place and a place they can come and learn.”

The gaming center will have the most up-to-date games but will also include some of the classic 1980s video games for parents, Kuhns said.

Included in the game center is a food court with a variety of menu items and three semi-private birthday rooms to be rented out for parties.

“The way we’ve configured it is to have these rooms or rent for sports parties or birthday parties,” Kuhns said.

The inflatable area includes jousting tables and a boxing ring along with a play box for younger children and four pool tables.

But the biggest draw is the 4,000-square-foot Laser Tag arena designed and set up by Lasertron, a Laser Tag company.

The arena was hand-painted and uses a black-light effect, custom-equipped with a fog machine and air conditioning.

The Laser Tag arena will hold up to 30 participants and will run on a tight schedule with a new game every half hour. Each new session includes a briefing on the rules, setup time and three six-minute playing sessions for $10.

Kuhns is hoping to have leagues formed for summer play and may increase the number of backpacks available for play.

“It’s really a fun game,” Kuhns said. “And it’s a workout. There’s a lot going on.”

The back area will have two pitching machines and two pitching areas complete with radar guns.

The batting cages will through at two different speeds and Kuhns is hoping to see the South Kitsap baseball teams use the cages for practice.

The Astroturf in the cages is from Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Quy said.

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