[caption id="attachment_37572" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="Employees of Playland Greg Stettler, Kyle Hendry, Jorgio Gonzales, Bret Short and Owner Ryan Podesta holding son, Niko, display a new company sign. "][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- Billed as the largest indoor paintball, laser tag and airsoft center west of the Mississippi River, the new Playland is scheduled to have a soft opening the week of Aug. 5 at 170 Todd Road, pending final approvals from the county.

Owner Ryan Podesta is putting his 16 years of experience and personal finances behind this new venture, along with funding from three private investors.

"I named this center Playland after the Playland of the Pacific amusement center in San Francisco at the beach.  When I was a kid, my father would tell me stories, such as one about every child wanting to have a birthday party at Playland. This is my way of re-creating that fun-filled experience for another generation."

Mr. Podesta also operates a retail paintball store, called Thirty First Outfitters, at 615 Petaluma Blvd. North (named for California, the 31st state) where paintball fans can buy air-powered guns, gear and supplies.

In addition to his enterprises, he also serves as a civilian consultant to the U.S. Army where he leads a one-week paintball-based rehabilitation program for G.I.'s returning from a war zone.

Mr. Podesta was previously a member of the original startup team for the Escape Entertainment paintball center in Rohnert Park.

"I've been involved in this industry most of my life and wanted to get out on my own. I believe this sport is a better alternative to just sitting down playing video games at a console. It provides exercise, builds teamwork and helps develop hand-eye coordination."

[caption id="attachment_37574" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Playland paintball center employees conduct mock battles at the new center at 170 Todd Road in Santa Rosa."][/caption]

Playland has signed an initial five-year lease from building owners, Balco Properties, with an option on another five years. Mr. Podesta expects to employ 22 workers once the center is operational.

The 63,000-square-foot structure is spacious enough to house three separate paintball fields, a laser tag arena and a separate Airsoft zone labeled as an "urban warfare" center.

All fields are "capped" or enclosed in a net to contain the paintballs.  Observation windows are provided for spectators.  Pro training classes will also be taught to aid customers in improving their skills.

The professional field is carpeted with pro-level black artificial turf. Other fields use bark as a means to stay "green" and keep the outdoor feeling alive, while offering a scent of being in the woods.

Fields contain a wide-range of obstacles, vehicles, boats, tires, bridges, bunkers, tunnels and mock-housing units to add realism to the hunt, run, shoot, drop and dive player maneuvers.

Furthermore, the center will have an arcade with more than 60 games, an equipment rental section, a 2,000 s.f. paintball store -- boasting one of the most well-stocked inventories in Northern California -- as well as lockers and a reception area.

Two air fill stations, with 4,500 PSI and 3,000 PSI compressors, have been installed to recharge air tanks that drive paintball markers. The center has parking for 80 vehicles in front of the building and 90 more paved spaces available in the field next door.

The three types of play action involve different paintball marker guns and projectiles. Paintball, as the name implies, uses half-inch-round paint balls that are water-soluble for easy cleanup.  Airsoft uses much smaller plastic pellets, and laser tag uses light waves to target opponents.

The architect for Playland is Jim Rasmussun of Petaluma. Also on the drawing board for the future are plans to create an outdoor paintball field on two acres in an adjacent 12-acre parcel already included in the lease. This zone could someday include a zip line rope course and space devoted to radio-controlled cars.

"The potential for paintball in this area is incredible. A truly great field complex has never been developed -- until now."

He says a business like this can expect to earn from $50,000 to $1 million a year, depending on customer volumes, overhead and the type of customers you have.

"We already have a huge fan following in the area among all ages and one that includes men and women. For example, half of my customers at the store are age 17 or under and the other half are 25 or older. I anticipate that some 40 percent of Playland's customers will be repeaters coming in once or twice a month, while 15-20 percent of the kids will be back every week."

Safety is first. All players are required to wear goggles and protective headgear. Upper body vests are available and patrons are advised to wear pants and hard shoes -- no flip flops.

Everyone coming to the center will be divided into teams. Any hit, whether on foot, hand, body or gun is considered an "out." Podesta says this live action game is more like playing 'tag, you're it,' rather than a bloodsport. According to him, paintball body hits cause no more discomfort than snapping a rubber band on one's hand, and injuries from paintball are far fewer than those reported from playing football.

The cost for a minimum three hours of play is $24 plus the cost of ammunition (such as $15 for 500 paintballs). Certain age restrictions apply. For paintball, the minimum age is 10 and for airsoft, it is age 12 and up. Virtually every age group can play laser tag.

A variety of league and tournament competitions, with teams of 5-on-5 and 7-on-7 players, will be part of the center's annual program.

"We are planning a gala grand opening after our soft launch that will include special giveaways, gift certificates, a pro training clinic and an art mural contest with a cash prize.  Go to our website (www.playland707.com) for more information and for the exact date of the grand opening," Mr. Podesta said.