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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Businessman's Playful Ideas to Benefit Moscow

Take one entrepreneur father, a factory with down time, several modular designs and vision, and what do you get? A proposal to see safe, modern playgrounds in Moscow, new jobs, happy children, more cohesive communities and sponsors getting value for their investment.

Anthony Hayes, a Moscow-based U.S. businessman, is the driving force behind a new campaign to use local labor and materials to manufacture child-friendly equipment for playgrounds in Moscow.

Hayes, 39, got his inspiration for the project while relaxing with his nieces at a Brooklyn playground last year. The children played chase together, easily escaping from their less fit and taller uncle by racing under the modular equipment just as he tried to catch them. Hayes recalled at home over dinner in his Moscow apartment that he thought at the time, "These playgrounds are really cool. My children need something like this in Moscow."

On his return to Russia, Hayes decided to manufacture modular playgrounds at the Trinity Neon factory, where he is a partner and director of sales and marketing, and to get local businesses to foot the bill.

Hayes first came to Moscow from New York in early 1993 and saw a business opportunity in manufacturing outdoor neon signs for advertising; he moved here soon after. He has since established a diverse portfolio of business interests: In addition to his responsibilities at Trinity, he is a founding partner of the Hungry Duck, has a small interest in Chesterfield Cafe, and is one of four partners in the Tibet Himalaya restaurant.

But Hayes is also part of a family: his companion, Tatyana, children Pavel, 8, and Jessica, 10 months, and Tatyana's mother, Lyudmila Ivanovna. Having a family "puts you in new places," Hayes said, and "exposes you to kids' stuff."

The "kids' stuff" Hayes has in mind are multi-functional, modular playgrounds, "an assembly line of fun." There are more than 11 different basic slides, and 11 basic ladders, to which bridges, decks, stairs, tunnels , game panels, and "house" areas can be added. The playgrounds will be Russified, with custom details such as onion domes. "It's important to keep local culture," Hayes said.

The Hayes family recently moved to a new apartment building, where they discovered what may be the best public playground in Moscow across the road from their home. It also is part of Hayes's inspiration. (The playground was erected by a local businessman who wanted to thank the community for its support.)

The area, open only to kids and their parents, has created a strong nucleus for the community. "It's like a magnet," Tatyana said. While children play, parents and grandparents can sit and chat.

Here people look out for each other; if something is wrong with a child, people will notice and do something about it, Tatyana said.

Hayes is similarly inspired by the safety this offers. "It's very important in any urban environment where everybody knows everybody else's basic business."

A far cry from the standard rusty metal or splintering wooden carved equipment, the equipment Hayes envisions will be made from safe, modern materials, which meet the combined safety standards of Canada and the United States. Hayes will be working to get safety standards established in Russia. Soft surfaces (sand and wood chips) to land on are an integral part of the modules, as is seating for the children's caregivers. Access to the playgrounds will be free.

Hayes has approached Moscow's many administrative units to gain rights to erect playgrounds in their areas. The response so far has been positive. "Everybody wants free playgrounds," he said. "The communities are dying for it."

Hayes said businesses that sponsor the playgrounds, such as Renaissance Capital Group, make an initial investment (at prices starting from $20,000), and after that pay a low maintenance fee for the upkeep of the equipment.

In return for their money, sponsors have their name on the equipment, which provides a permanent, low-cost, direct-marketing opportunity. This is good value for money, when compared with the standard annual, double-sided billboard fee of $20,000, Hayes said.

The playgrounds offer sponsors a chance to "put something back into the community," Hayes said. But, from a business angle, they also present an opportunity for companies involved in sports, health, medical care, childcare and food products to reach a wide market.

Hayes expects the first four prototype models to be installed before winter; one will be erected outside the Trinity Neon factory, near Profsoyuznaya metro station. The sponsored playgrounds will be ready for use early next year.

As much of the manufacturing work as possible will be done locally, thus providing jobs for Muscovites. Components made of steel, metal and wood will all be manufactured at Trinity Neon, while plastic components will be made by Henderson Recreation Equipment Ltd. of Canada, the company that gave Trinity Neon exclusive license to manufacture in Russia and the CIS.

Eight-year-old Pavel is not so much concerned about the playgrounds' materials as he is interested in their configuration. "I want a fire house with one floor for girls," he said, "and a second floor for boys."