25 Years of MGAC: Discovery Channel Stores
MGAC was founded in 1996 with three goals: to do the most interesting and challenging work, to have fun working together, and to build a successful business in the process. Twenty-five years later, we have met these goals and more. At this milestone moment, we thought it would be fun to look back at some of our most memorable projects—our favorite missions made real. Today, join us as we revisit our work on Discovery Channel Stores.
Back in 1997 when the world was abuzz over experience-based retail, Discovery Channel set out to build a 30,000-square-foot flagship store in Washington, DC’s MCI Center (now Capital One Arena). The project aimed to bring the cable TV brand to life, and was just the first in a series of retail outposts that MGAC would help Discovery Channel execute across the country over the following decade.
Nicknamed “Hollywood on the Potomac,” the flagship store was a gargantuan production. Our tasks included heading to the Black Hills of South Dakota to buy, transport, and then assemble a life-size skeleton cast of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. There was an egg-shaped elevator with armadillo “scales.” A 36-screen, 270-degree high-def movie theater broadcasting the company’s cable channel programming. Nothing was spared in the production of this store. Discovery Channel’s wishlist even took MGAC Founder and President Mark Anderson across the country to purchase the front end of a B25 bomber from a former member of Hells Angels in Chino, CA. Anderson drove it back on a truck to DC, where the team had its nose art repainted and hung on a wall in the store.
Just our second client, Discovery Channel truly set the stage for the firm. In fact, MGAC was so new, we didn’t even have business cards when we interviewed for the job. But we landed the project nonetheless, in part thanks to our already-established reputation for local construction expertise. At the time, the Discovery Channel flagship store was one of the most talked-about projects in DC. Landing it right out the gate put our firm on the map.
MGAC’s relationship with Discovery Channel truly took off when the firm was tapped to also manage the roll-out of 173 additional store locations across the United States, Puerto Rico, and the United Kingdom over a 10-year period. While there was no life-sized T-Rex involved, the task was still impressive. Delivering each on a 10-week construction cycle, we initiated and managed an architectural design competition; established yearly store development budgets, opening schedules, and program documents; administered all store competitive bidding; reviewed architectural invoices; and negotiated landlord interaction. Those stores’ international spread is another major element that distinguishes this project in MGAC’s history. From the outset, we were never just a DC firm.
In a word, the lasting impact of this project has been relationships. It built connections that have continued to pay dividends for our firm 25 years later. Anderson describes it as “lighting the end of the fuse.” Project partners went on to refer some of our superstar staff members to MGAC, and the work also opened the door to some of our favorite future projects. Plus, for the first time, we realized there was no limit to the “what ifs” we could make a reality. If our team could move a T-Rex skeleton halfway across the country—what couldn’t we do?