Located at 7057 N. Marks Ave. in Fresno, Syctron will feature everything from ziplines to stunt falls for guests of all ages to experience. Photo by Ben Hensley
Written by Ben Hensley
After years of preparation, planning, paperwork, permitting and, of course, an extensive construction rebuild, the former Longs Drugs on the corner of Herndon and Marks avenues in Fresno will once again open its doors to families from around the Valley.
However, customers walking through the sliding glass doors will be met with a much different type of family outing.
Syctron Freeplay Arena, a 27-000 square-foot family entertainment center hopes to open its doors early this year, bringing a massive play zone for kids and adults alike to Northwest Fresno.
Bouncing around, settling down
Aaron Tucker, chief marketing officer and co-owner of Syctron, had worked in the family entertainment business — specifically trampoline parks — for over ten years. Tucker attended Clovis High School prior to leaving for Brigham Young University in Utah, and eventually opened the first trampoline park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
After overseeing various parks and entertainment centers in the Southeast, Tucker moved back to the Valley
Tucker and his partners focus on family-based organizations and businesses and have always placed a high value on curating positive experiences. Tucker also founded Forward Family Services — a nonprofit focusing on accessible behavioral health services — in 2020.
Also, that year, he began meeting with his partners, CEO John King, Chief Operating Officer Ash King and Chief Legal Officer Jake Skousen to plan their next endeavor — a family entertainment center.
Tucker and his partners did not have to look far to find a property. At 7057 N. Marks Ave., the former Longs Drugs had ample space located conveniently between Highways 99 and 41. A five minute drive from the 99 and a 20-minute drive from Madera is something Tucker and his partners found specifically appealing about the location.
“There were a couple other options, but ultimately this was the right size and the right location for our first go,” Tucker said. “We can go bigger — we have gone bigger — but for our first go [in Fresno] we felt like this was the right size to get started with this concept.”
A year ago, when The Business Journal first spoke with Tucker about the center — then referred to as Free Play Arena — the project was in full swing. But with a facility of this magnitude in California, multiple operational forms and documents were required to be processed by the city.
“Last time we spoke we had plans and a business model set up for that and everything was underway,” Tucker said. “Now, the actual construction is close to complete…we’re mostly just dealing with fine little items at the city level and permit type stuff.”
A ‘different’ kind of entertainment center
Syctron aims to be a one-of-a-kind entertainment center, catering to all age groups. Tucker and his partners hope to take their experience running various entertainment and service spaces throughout their careers and use it to create a hands-on, unique experience.
“We’ve kind of been all over the country running multi-unit operations,” King said. “Eventually we all found our way out and decided we wanted to get together to do our own vision — our own project.”
King worked in food and beverage as well as health and recreation with the YMCA before coming to the trampoline park industry with CircusTrix — now rebranded as Sky Zone. Visalia has a Sky Zone location.
Tucker and King have extensive experience in the family entertainment industry, possessing the knowledge and know-how to see what works and what doesn’t in various entertainment centers, they said.
“We have a smaller lobby; we have a smaller back area for cafe seating because when people come in, we want them to be blown away with how big the attraction is,” King said. “When you look around at similar concepts, there are other indoor play structures that have been out there, but they’re tailored to little kids. They’re a tiny footprint; ours is scaled so that everyone in the family can participate.”
Approximately 85% of Syctron’s attractions will be sized to be fully accessible to adults.
“Another unique thing is that the structure itself is tied into different attractions,” he said. “You can see ninja obstacle-type equipment and obstacles; then you’re got points that attach to a stunt fall or various slides throughout the park.”
Tucker said that Syctron will also introduce a new type of obstacle to Fresno: the “spider tunnel.” It is a cone-shaped series of interweaving rope “webs” that progressively climb from level to level for kids and adults to explore.
“It’s a very unique, integrated, massive play structure, with a very unique aesthetic,” Tucker said. “Some things you’ve seen elsewhere, but the way that it’s come together in this one and the size and the color and the scheme of it all, people are going to walk in, and we feel pretty good they’re going to be blown away.”
The center also features several slides and stunt falls ranging from 6-8 feet, ladders for observation, a circular zipline and a “ball room,” which will be filled with inflatable balls for customers to climb through.
What else to expect
Not only will Syctron feature a play area taking up most of the 27,000 square-feet of space in the building, but the center will also feature a cafe, arcade and eventually party rooms accommodating birthday parties and other special events.
“We’re going to open with a cafe that will scale up,” King said, adding that the restaurant will launch with light amenities and will eventually include sandwiches, pizza, salads and desserts.
The soft-serve ice cream machine will debut Flavor Burst ice cream, which, similar to a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, allows customers to customize their ice cream with different flavors.
Syctron’s arcade will feature around 15 games underneath another play structure.
Once opened, Syctron’s play area will be able to accommodate around 200 guests, with the building capacity approximately 400 including the cafe, party rooms, arcade area and attractions.
Initially, Syctron will launch with 90-minute passes at $27.99 for general admission and $21.99 for children ages three to six.
Additionally, Syctron will offer all-day passes starting at $35.99 for adults and $28.99 for children ages three to six.
This June, however, Tucker said he hopes to launch a membership program that will rival the cost of daily passes, hoping to draw returning customers to the entertainment center.
“People will find that the memberships are certainly the best value,” Tucker said.
Syctron will hire anywhere from 30-40 employees ranging from safety monitors, cleaning crew, front desk operators and cafe staff, in addition to managers to run the operations.
Hiring will be announced approximately two weeks prior to opening, which Tucker hopes to be no later than spring break.
“Ash and I have opened new locations before, so have our other partners Jake and John,” Tucker said. “We expect there’s going to be probably some demand up front and a lot of people want to try it out, which we love, of course.”
While an official grand opening date is still to be announced, Tucker said that the center has a target date of no later than spring break 2024, which this year falls at the end of March.