- 2012 - April - 12th -

Workspace: Battalion Airsoft Arena owner Chris Webster

by Joe Wilhelm Jr., Staff Writer

A new entertainment concept is bringing life to an old, previously empty warehouse near Downtown Jacksonville.

Owner Chris Webster is preparing to open Battalion Airsoft Arena April 28 at 2253 Dennis St., a few miles west of Downtown.

He estimates he has invested $175,000 in the business.

The nearly 50,000-square-foot building will include a 40,000-square-foot arena with moveable obstacles and structures, and a disruptor technician tower, which will allow the technician to alter the game through sound effects, sirens and a smoke machine.

“After being involved with airsoft, I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like about it. I wanted to create a business that was fun and focused on customer comfort, while offering the highest level of play to the airsoft enthusiast,” said Webster, 49.

He plans to hire a staff of four full-time and eight part-time employees, and already has begun to take reservations for corporate team-building events from local businesses.

Airsoft is a game in which players use replica firearms equipped to shoot plastic BBs as they participate in simulated combat situations that might be experienced by either military or law enforcement personnel.

While some players might not be comfortable with the sounds of bombs exploding and BBs flying at them as they make their way through a smoke-filled arena floor, Webster will work to bring comfort to customers as they step out of the arena.

The 6,700-square-foot air-conditioned Players’ Lounge features the Canteen concession stand, a ready room for players to receive instructions on the combat situations prior to stepping into the arena, a large meeting room for parties and conferences, and video gaming areas.

The Canteen was first thought of to serve hungry players from the arena, but it might see more use as Webster considers his location.

“We are one of the only retail businesses in the area and people working around here have to drive somewhere to get something to eat for lunch. We plan to be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to see if we can attract some lunch business,” he said.

The arena might also see other uses.

With the ability to create a variety of combat situations in the arena, Webster plans to contact area law enforcement agencies to let them know about possible training opportunities.

“We can create a variety of settings, a gas station, a convenience store. It could be really helpful for their training,” said Webster.

Ideas for the business continue to grow, just as the original idea for the business grew through his passion for organizing airsoft events as outreach projects through his church.

He is passionate about his faith and states that he won’t be “preachy” at the new business, but he will try to share his message.

“I think I can get the word of the Lord out in prayer. All I have to do is plant the seed. It’s part of my commitment to God, to give back for what has been given to me,” said Webster.

Three generations of Websters have contributed to building the business. His father, Ernest, has done a lot of the carpentry work, building a Formica table for the conference room, four islands of special lockers for players to store their gear in the ready room, the disruptor technician tower, the rental counter and access ramps.

“I enjoy helping out,” Ernest said while completing work on one of the access ramps.

He doesn’t have any airsoft gear, but that could change.

“I’ll probably end up getting some after this gets going,” Ernest said with a smile.

Webster has counted on the opinions of his son Christopher, 14, to help with the decisions on what kind of food to offer, which types of video games to stock and decisions on rental, since he also is an airsoft enthusiast.

“There is a lot of potential here and, after 13 months of planning and working to get this open, I’m really anxious to get started,” said Webster.



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