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Merry Hill's Quest play zone to close down

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The Quest entertainment zone at Merry Hill shopping centre is to close in six months, its owner has revealed.

Paragon Entertainment broke the news after revealing the £1.3 million project lost £90,000 over the last 12 months.

It expects to lose another £110,000 over the six months before the children's attraction finally closes its doors.

The firm revealed in September it was considering closure for the two-year-old centre which has failed to attract enough customers.

It opened in a blaze of glory in 2012 and features rope walks, soft play areas, a jungle-gym assault course and a Nerf combat arena.

Thirty jobs were created when it first opened but now has just two full-time staff and a number of part-timers.

Bosses say they are to make use of a break clause in its lease with Merry Hill owners Intu, which it says is due to development work at the shopping centre at around the same time as it will close.

Paragon Entertainment chief executive Mark Pyrah said: "Sadly, the trading position at Merry Hill, due to the low footfall in the Quest location within the mall is simply not sustainable.

Quest at Merry Hill

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"The imminent major redevelopment at the centre, since it was taken over by Intu Properties in May this year, coincides with a break opportunity in our lease and, for commercial reasons, we have elected to exercise that break."

He added: "Quest at Merry Hill has been a valuable test bed for the company and our future relationship with Intu Properties.

"The board is hugely grateful for the past and continued efforts of the Quest staff

and management team, and the loyalty from over 200,000 happy visitors who continue to enjoy great family entertainment at Quest."

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Mike Butterworth, chief operating officer of Merry Hill's owner Intu, said:

"We are sorry it's closing, but respect the decision taken by Paragon Entertainment. We wish everyone affected the best for the future."

The entertainment zone, which opened in November 2012, saw the atrium at one of the centre's main entrances converted into an exciting indoor 14 metre high-wire area.

Initially Paragon Entertainment, which has created visitor attractions like Titanic Belfast, the Wallace and Gromit ride at Blackpool Pleasure and the official Olympic Museum in Switzerland, operated an outdoor ice rink as well.

The first two months saw 15,000 people using Quest, with the ice rink proving a hit, but despite many new attractions for children being added since – including a Nerf blaster combat zone in a giant tented area and an indoor mini golf course and soft play area in the former Harry Ramsden's restaurant area – it had failed to generate an operating profit.

Paragon had hoped to build up a chain of Quests if the Black Country experiment had proved a success.

The Yorkshire company said last year that one of the reasons for the poor performance of the Merry Hill operation was that not enough people visited its end of Merry Hill between Debenham's and Sainsbury's. Good summer weather had also seen a fall off in numbers of families visiting.

The attraction, which included a cafe area, created 30 jobs when it opened but currently only has two full-time staff supported by part-timers.

Paragon had been considering further investment or moving the location of the attraction.

It had been in talks with Merry Hill's new owners, the Intu group, about options before announcing the closure plan.

It used the Quest centre to launch the new attractions arm of the its business in 2012.

Previously it had simply built attractions for other firms to run.

Quest was also being used a show room and a test market to explore and develop new concepts.

A lot of its business plan for Quest was about getting children to be more active.

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