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Meow Wolf scraps Phoenix art hotel project, has other plans for city


PHOENIX – Two years after Meow Wolf announced plans for a unique art/hotel mashup in downtown Phoenix, the project has been scrapped.

Meow Wolf told KTAR News 92.3 FM in a statement last week that while the hotel concept is off the table, the expanding New Mexico-based company is looking to open a permanent exhibition in Phoenix “in the next few years.”

In February 2019, Meow Wolf announced it would build a 400-room hotel in the Roosevelt Row Arts District, near Garfield and Third streets.

The facility was to feature rooms designed by local artists, a 10,000-square-foot performance venue and a 75,000-square-foot exhibition area.

“The hotel concept in Phoenix, we’re not moving forward with that,” co-CEO Jim Ward told The Associated Press. “That’s off. But Phoenix is a market we plan to be in.”

A half-decade ago, Meow Wolf was a scrappy, quirky arts group from New Mexico that somehow managed to pull off a mind-bending, attention-getting, ticket-selling experience in a onetime bowling alley.

Since then, explosive, exponential growth: Meow Wolf attracted 87 investors to commit $158 million for expansions to big-time locales. From six original founders, the company expanded to 500 employees, though the pandemic forced a trim to about 270.

But last week, the mom and pop era ended for good. As the company begins a new chapter in Las Vegas with the opening of Omega Mart, officials acknowledge the expansion now sets the foundation for the company’s long-term future — with a chance to become a national and even international developer and operator of large-scale, multimedia, interactive art installations.

Ward said that in addition to giving Meow Wolf its first dedicated revenue stream since New Mexico public health orders shut down the House of Eternal Return last year, the Las Vegas outlet will be a test of how a startup can multiply many times over in new markets.

“If you can make it in Vegas, you can make it anywhere,” Ward said. “This is a good validation.”

Company officials caution that while the Las Vegas location might point the direction for the future — Omega Mart is a clear sibling of the House of Eternal Return — it’s unrealistic to believe things will be the way they were when the company found resounding success in Santa Fe.

Getting from New Mexico to Nevada didn’t happen overnight. Executives from Las Vegas’ Area15, a development of experiential entertainment, approached Meow Wolf in the summer of 2017, just a year after the House of Eternal Return opened to international acclaim.

The Nevada opportunity, Ward said, “jived with what we were doing.”

The Meow Wolf team that opened the House of Eternal Return in 2016 was not equipped or structured to replicate the Santa Fe success that took form in 20,000 square feet of a former bowling alley. Omega Mart is 52,000 square feet and five years later on with technological advances.

As the new creation took shape, company officials said they had to adjust quickly.

“We had to restructure the company in a very dramatic way,” Ward recalled. “We did it early enough to get to the point to open in Las Vegas.”

Meow Wolf started as a group of artists who functioned outside the local art mainstream. That spirit was still in place with 70 employees when the House of Eternal Return opened.

Each new Meow Wolf installation will be unique, but the Las Vegas and Denver projects established the methodology on how to create installations on order.

A free-standing Meow Wolf exhibition in Denver is expected to open later this year, and the company is exploring opportunities in Washington, D.C.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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