Nerf guns and virtual reality games will be the focus of a family-friendly business coming to downtown Lakeland and adding to the growing roster of entertainment-oriented venues in the city core.

Owner  Luis Lopez, Jr hopes to open Dart World Gaming Arena by mid-February in the ground floor of the building at the southeast corner of Main St. and Tennessee Ave.; it is next to Black & Brew Coffee House and Bistro and downstairs from Lakeland Loft Cigar and Jazz Lounge.


Lopez moved to Lakeland from New York when he was 13, and attended Lake Gibson High School, playing right tackle for the JV football team. He graduated from Lake Gibson in 2006.

“Growing up in Lakeland, I really didn’t have a lot to do but walk to Simpson Park or find 50 cents to go to Duff Field to play basketball. There really wasn’t a lot to do in that time. I wanted to bring something … for the kids and adults to have fun,” said Luis Lopez.

Inside the arena, parents will be able to have nerf wars with their kids or host birthday parties. The venue will have two indoor nerf arenas and three virtual reality gaming rooms “with big game collections.” The nerf arenas will have bunkers and covers for players.

Because Lakeland is home to several colleges, Julie Townsend of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority believes the venue will be popular among young adults.

“It’s definitely going to add more choices for all ages. This is an alternative for college students when bars are not an option. This is a great thing for high school students to partake in,” she said. “It’s something else that is just pure fun that appeals to families; people can do this with their kids and younger siblings but it’s also perfectly fine for adults.”

Dart World Gaming Arena will move into the downtown storefront vacated by RP Funding mortgage lending.

Townsend noted the gaming arena joins a list of other emerging entertainment options downtown, including two escape rooms — Lakeland Escape Room and Escapology — the axe-throwing and virtual gun range venue Ax-Caliber, and the arcade bar Rec Room.

“Downtowns are perfect venues for these types of places because you can pair that experience with dinner or ice cream afterwards or go listen to live music or just walk around and people watch.  [You can do that] all without having to get back in your car and drive to some different place for each of those activities,” Townsend said.

Lopez decided to open the arena in downtown Lakeland because it’s accessible to buses, parking and an area that’s well known with a lot of foot traffic.

He said he wanted to “make it a place where anyone of any age can just let loose and have fun,” adding he wants it to be considered a fun space for all.

A quick Google search reveals only one other nerf gun arena in the state, located in Panama City.

“Paintball arenas don’t allow kids under 16 to play do to risk of injury. I [asked] myself what can I do that’s as fun as paintball but without the injury and that’s how Dart World was created,” Lopez explained.

Besides opening Dart World Gaming Arena, Lopez works for Amazon as a Start UP Program manager, and recently launched Florida’s first AR robotics delivery station for the company, according to his LinkedIn profile. He started his gaming arena business in 2019, hosting parties across central Florida.

“I started the business before COVID-19. I was really excited to get it going but COVID-19 hit in the middle of our search for a location. With people wanting to go out now, [I] felt like it was time to get started again,” Lopez said, adding that many of his customers requested he open a location.

Townsend said the space had been formerly occupied by RP Funding mortgage lending. She said the space is too large for retail and not appealing to restaurants because of the renovation needed to convert it for dining.

Lopez said he hopes to expand and open more arenas in Central Florida.

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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