Brothers' venture adds another entertainment element to Rohnert Park

[caption id="attachment_19945" align="alignright" width="288" caption="Escape co-owners Anthony and Jonathan Bergland in the 15,000-square-foot paintball field"][/caption]

ROHNERT PARK – Two brothers plan to transform a vacant Levitz Furniture store along Highway 101 into an entertainment facility centered on a tournament-level indoor paintball field.

Anthony and Jonathan Bergland, ages 31 and 25, signed a three-year lease in February for the 45,000-square-foot store building at 5195 Redwood Drive. Levitz went out of business in 2008.

The building, which is visible to the west from Highway 101, is part of a growing cluster of entertainment-related venues in this city.

[caption id="attachment_19947" align="alignleft" width="216" caption="Abandoned Levitz showroom partitions have been repurposed as a 7,000-square-foot "urban" course. (Jeff Quackenbush photos)"][/caption]

"Rohnert Park is quickly becoming the entertainment center of Sonoma County," said Anthony Bergland. "We're trying to help make the city a destination when people visit Wine Country for vacations or corporate events."

In another example of adaptive reuse of shuttered big-box retail space, Driven Raceway in September turned a former Linens n' Things building in the Wal-Mart anchored shopping center further north on Redwood into an entertainment center with high-tech electric karts, miniature golf and an arcade.

"Rohnert Park is a good distance to carry people into this venue," said Driven co-owner Matt Stearn.

He said the business pulls racing enthusiasts from Santa Rosa, the west county, Petaluma, Sonoma Valley as well as from Napa and other counties.

Anthony Bergland said he has been exploring some cross-marketing ventures with other sport centers in the city. For example, the Berglands are in talks with University of Sports, which has been operating for several years in a former Costco Wholesale shopping center space, about being part of an extreme sports camp in late June.

The Berglands are tailoring their new business, Escape Entertainment LLC, to appeal to newcomers to the sport by offering equipment rentals and an "urban" course intentionally obstructed with abandoned Levitz showroom partitions, discarded appliances, an old Volkswagen Beetle chassis and a pickup bed.

The facility also is set to offer an arcade, Q-Zar Laser Tag arena, viewing lounge with WiFi Internet connections, four party rooms, conference room and eventually a snack bar, according to Anthony Bergland. The minimum age for paintball is 10, but for Q-Zar it's 6.

Three hours of paintball are expected to cost $24 per person, with the jumpsuit, plastic armor and air canisters for paintball guns, something that often is not included, according to Mr. Bergland.

Yet for paintball enthusiasts, Escape is being billed as a place to field teams preparing for tournaments. The field has 15,000 square feet of artificial turf and inflatable obstacles of various shapes.

To design the courses and run the paintball side of the venue, the Berglands brought in Ryan Podesta, a professional paintballer and owner of Thirty First Outfitters pro shop in downtown Petaluma.

He has played on sponsored teams for five years. In 2006, after he earned a psychology degree from Sonoma State University, Mr. Podesta started developing paintball courses and team-building programs for the U.S. military around the world to help soldiers transitioning from war. The facility is set to have paintball-related merchandise.

Anthony Bergland has been considering this venture for several years and has been working on it full time for the past 12 months. The availability of the building and Mr. Podesta put that idea into action, he said.

Jonathan Bergland, a recent business graduate from Sonoma State, continues to work as a manager for a large apartment complex nearby.

The venture has put the brothers' DJ-related events business, Non-Stop Entertainment, on hiatus.

The architect for the project is Jim Henderson of The Fifth Resource, and the general contractor is Chris Hoke of Santa Rosa. A meeting with the city on final permits needed is set for early April.

The expected cost of the project is $300,000, including $50,000 in paintball gun-related equipment and barriers. Unable to get Small Business Administration financing, they raised the money from their own resources and network. The facility is expected to employ up to 25.

For more information, call 707-585-8000 or visit www.escapesonomacounty.com.

CORRECTION, April 6, 2010: The $24-a-person fee is for three hours of rental play not three games.