So long Charlie Brown, Sponge Bob taking over

March 14, 2008 6:20:37 PM PDT
So long, Charlie Brown. SpongeBob is taking over. The Mall of America's indoor amusement park, seven sprawling acres of rides, games and assorted fun once ruled by the Peanuts gang, is now the domain of Nickelodeon Universe.

After a $25 million makeover, SpongeBob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer and Boots the Monkey now greet visitors to the park, which has its grand opening Saturday with appearances by Ashlee Simpson and an assortment of the popular cable network's stars.

The debut gives Nickelodeon its first standalone theme park as it expands its brand. For the megamall, the new tenant fills a void left by Snoopy's departure two years ago with attractions that promise to pull in more older children and teenagers.

The mall considered "almost every brand out there" before choosing Nickelodeon, which is owned by Viacom Inc., spokeswoman Maureen Hooley Bausch said.

"They're the No. 1 brand with children," Bausch said.

Nickelodeon, which also is expanding into cruises in August and developing a lodging resort brand with Marriott International Inc., has had Nick-branded zones in theme parks before but never a full park, said Howard Smith, Nick's executive vice president of recreation.

"We really wanted to create a place where kids and families could come out and play together," Smith said. "Kids tell us going to a theme park with their family is one of the most memorable experiences that they can have."

Camp Snoopy operated in the center of the Mall of America for 13 years, from the mall's opening in 1992, until an agreement couldn't be reached to extend its run. For the past two years, the mall kept generic amusement rides going as "The Park at MOA." Just over a year ago, Nickelodeon was announced as the new theme park tenant.

Charlie Brown, Lucy and the other Peanuts characters are "a wonderful brand, but they're slightly more nostalgic," Bausch explained.

"It was hard for us to see it go, but we also knew that the children could relate to a new brand, also," she said.