BOARDMAN – The rooms that once housed Jillian’s restaurant and entertainment center at the Southern Park Mall have sat empty for a decade.
The dining area, bar, bowling alley and game room have been gutted, turning the once-festive space into a spooky, forgotten funhouse. All that remains in the dusty halls are carnival-like signs that still point the way to long-gone attractions.
But as Jonah Karzmer and Melvin McKee walk through the cavernous, dark rooms, they can clearly see what it will become.
The 38,000-square-foot space will open this fall as The Bunker, an indoor golf practice and education site with a driving range, putting and short-game training areas, and 12 golf simulators. These machines use computerized tracking equipment and a video screen to allow a person to play a simulated game.
The Bunker will also have a Bogey’s restaurant and bar and a 6,000-square-foot patio.
Karzmer, a former golf pro and Mahoning Valley insurance professional, came up with the vision for the golf center, which is part of the DeBartolo Commons entertainment complex under construction on the southern end of the mall.
He enlisted Bogey’s co-owners McKee and Carmen Lofaro as partners to handle the food and beverage side.
The former video game and bowling alley rooms of Jillian’s will house the indoor driving range and a short-game practice area.
Electronic golf simulator machines will occupy a former dining room. A bar and restaurant will be at the front.
The restaurant, to be called Double Bogey’s, will have a glass front wall that will overlook the green space of DeBartolo Commons.
McKee, who is also the head chef at Bogey’s main location near Campbell, says the site at the mall will have a familiar menu, with some added touches.
“We’re going to take all of the Bogey’s favorites and make them available here and also add some trendy stuff,” McKee says. “We’ll also incorporate some golf-themed items.”
McKee describes Bogey’s as “an American restaurant with a Youngstown Italian grandmother flair. We have really good wedding soup. Our ragu is popular. We have a lot of great pasta dishes and we’re known for our burgers and for big portions.”
The Bunker will have four dining areas: a family dining room, a sports bar, a members-only dining area and a quick-service option in the golf practice area.
The sports bar will have a Youngstown sports hall of fame theme. The spacious patio will also have a bar as well as natural gas fireplaces for colder weather, McKee says.
Most of the golf simulator bays will be in an area adjacent to the restaurant, although one will be at the front entrance to the restaurant, and another in a room that can be rented for parties.
While the namesake of Bogey’s is the late actor Humphrey Bogart, the word is also a golf term. But that’s not the only thing that makes the restaurant a natural fit for an indoor golf attraction. “We have a cool brand, a great reputation, and we’re known locally,” says McKee.
Double Bogey’s and The Bunker golf operation together will hire 125 to 150 people. The total cost of the project is over $3 million, Karzmer says.
The Bunker is just one piece of the mall rebranding effort by its operator, Columbus-based Washington Prime Group.
In addition to the green space of DeBartolo Commons, new tenants will include Steel Valley Brew Works and possibly a wine bar.
Washington Prime’s vice president for investor relations and corporate communications, Kim Green, describes The Bunker as “a perfect fit” for the mall project.
“Our goal is to reinvent Southern Park Mall into a first-class retail and entertainment hub,” she says.
The outdoor area will host entertainment, sporting and other public events, she says, adding that more details will be released in a few weeks.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Washington Prime is preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
If it does, Green says the Southern Park Mall project will not be affected.
“The company remains committed to executing a first-class redevelopment project,” she says. “We intend to continue business as usual at Washington Prime Group’s shopping centers, including Southern Park Mall.”
Washington Prime operates about 100 malls across the country.
The idea for The Bunker began two years ago, when Karzmer approached Washington Prime with his idea. “I wanted to do something [golf-related] that is indoors,” he says. “Ever since The Creekside Golf Dome [in Girard] collapsed [in 2018], we haven’t had an indoor golf facility here.”
Karzmer was shown the former Jillian’s space and knew it would be suitable. With a space secured, Karzmer’s next task was to find a partner to handle the food and drink side. He approached Bogey’s owners, whom he had long known, and they were eager to get involved.
“I don’t know the food and beverage industry well and I knew if we’re going to pursue something this large, I would need a partner,” Karzmer says.
Another critical element was bringing in the Ben Curtis Academy as part of The Bunker. Curtis is a former PGA golf pro and a friend of Karzmer’s.
“I played college golf at Kent State University for two years and Ben was a teammate,” he says. “We became friends and remain friends.”
Curtis and his team “will build out a junior golf platform and a teaching academy,” Karzmer continues. “One or two of his teachers will be available for lessons.”
Curtis, who won the 2003 British Open as a rookie, grew up in Ostrander, a small town in central Ohio. He also operates a Ben Curtis Golf Academy at The Country Club of Hudson, near Cleveland.
The Bunker will offer country club-style membership packages with special perks such as tee-time priority, and will offer lessons and host tournaments.
But the center will be open to the public and welcoming to golfers of all skill levels,
“If you’re just learning, it’s a place to get used to the game,” Karzmer says. “If you’re a scratch golfer, you can come during winter and hit balls. We’re trying to make it valuable to all skill levels. … And as a teaching platform, having Ben’s name attached to it will only help us.”
Another confirmed business that will be part of DeBartolo Commons is Steel Valley Brew Works. It will occupy 12,000 square feet of renovated space, says Washington Prime’s Green.
Joshua Langenheim, a native of Youngstown who owns and operates StoneFruit Coffee, will run the new-to-market concept. The coffee shop chain has stores in Youngstown, Boardman, Canfield and Poland.
Steel Valley Brew Works will offer a large selection of local craft beers, specialty coffees and baked goods, and will occasionally bring in food trucks.
“[It] will also feature indoor bocce courts, billiards, pinball, foosball and other leisure games, providing guests an experience that can’t be found elsewhere in the area,” Green says.
Pictured: Melvin McKee and Jonah Karzmer stand in front of what will be the patio of Double Bogey’s restaurant in The Bunker project at Southern Park Mall. McKee and Carmen Lofaro, owners of Bogey’s, are partnering with Karzmer on the new attraction.