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Army to close high-tech recruiting center

The Army Experience Center, located in a Pennsylvania mall, includes video games and a Humvee combat simulator. The Army Experience Center, located in a Pennsylvania mall, includes video games and a Humvee combat simulator. (Matt Rourke/ Associated Press/ File)
Associated Press / June 11, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA — The Army is shutting down a flashy, high-tech information and recruiting center inside a mall, calling it a successful marketing experiment even as it attracted protesters and video game enthusiasts as much as potential soldiers.

The Army Experience Center will close July 31 after nearly two years at Philadelphia’s Franklin Mills Mall, military officials said yesterday. “It’s been a great success,’’ Army spokesman Brian Lepley said.

The $12 million center opened in August 2008 with interactive video exhibits, nearly 80 video gaming stations, a replica command-and-control center, conference rooms, and Black Hawk helicopter and Humvee combat simulators.

Since then, the center has hosted about 40,000 visitors and enlisted 236 recruits, Lepley said.

It was also repeatedly targeted for protests by those who said the Army’s use of first-person-shooter video games desensitized visitors to violence and enticed teens into the military. Anyone over 13 could play games, though the most graphic ones were restricted to those 18 and older.

Lepley said the demonstrations had nothing to do with the decision to close the center, but activist Elaine Brower of Staten Island, N.Y., said she was thrilled. She had been particularly galled by the center’s mall location, between a skateboard park and an arcade.

Officials initially said it might be replicated in other parts of the country. But as the recession set in and unemployment rose, enlistments increased and the Army began spending less on marketing.

Yet the Army Experience Center provided valuable information on how to connect with a generation used to getting information from computers and mobile devices, Lepley said.

Touch-screen kiosks showing the location of global Army posts and a “career navigator’’ displaying the service’s jobs and salaries proved popular, Lepley said.

“We can’t just print brochures anymore,’’ he said.

The Army had closed five traditional recruiting stations when it opened the center. It’s now planning to open a pair of more modern recruiting offices in nearby Levittown and northeast Philadelphia, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Belcher said.

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