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VOL. 126 | NO. 189 | Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Biz, Relocations on Tap for Poplar Plaza

By Sarah Baker

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One of the city’s landmark shopping centers is in the midst of major transformations.

Poplar Plaza, the 360,000-square-foot center at Poplar Avenue and Highland Street in the University of Memphis area, has remained a premier retail center for more than 60 years.

When the Goodwin family developed the center in 1949, it was the first suburban shopping center in the United States. At the time, Poplar and Highland was on the eastern fringe of the city.

Nowadays, the center is at the geographical center of metropolitan Memphis and has some of the highest vehicle traffic counts in the city.

Poplar Plaza has been owned and operated by Burlington, Mass.-based Finard Properties LLC for the past 25 years. The company also owns Germantown Plaza, Whitehaven Plaza and Court Square.

Situated on 28 acres, the plaza boasts 11 buildings that house more than 50 tenants, including several restaurants, a 40,000-square-foot fitness center and medical offices. The center is anchored by national retailers such as Kroger, PETCO and Old Navy, and also includes local favorites such as El Porton Mexican Restaurant, Mister Hats and Tommy Bronson Sporting Goods.

In January, Poplar Plaza bid its farewell to Bookstar, 3402 Poplar Ave., after 19 years. But after nine months, the 18,000-square-foot space has been leased.

While space configurations are still a work in progress, Osaka Japanese Cuisine will occupy about 7,300 square feet of the total space. This will be the restaurant’s fourth location in the Memphis area, behind its newest location in Olive Branch.

Meanwhile, Gould’s Day Spa and Salon will relocate from suite 5 – a space it’s occupied for nearly 60 years – into the approximately 5,000 square feet that formerly housed Starbucks Corp. inside the bookstore.

Also relocating is Momentum Rehab, which will take the balance of the back portion of the property that faces Prescott Street.

Rick Smith, director of property management for Finard Properties, represented the landlord on all three deals. Steve Brommer handled the brokerage.

When all is said and done, the new numbers will not actually total 18,000 square feet, Smith said. But Finard Properties is confident the choice to shift tenants, coupled with the new restaurant provider, was in the best interest of the center.

“There ends up being some square footage in there that loses its functionality, the upstairs part and some others,” Smith said. “We did initially want to go with a national, large-box retailer, and we had a lot of conversations with some folks about that. But, in the end, when we studied all of the economics, we settled with Gould’s, who we’re tickled to have there, and we liked the concept and use of Osaka – a very upscale, nice restaurant – having that up front right along Poplar Avenue.”

It’s pretty uncommon to have a landlord-tenant relationship that lasts as long as Gould’s and Finard Properties has, said co-owner David Gould. It was the local spa’s first Memphis-area location and also among the first tenants in Poplar Plaza’s history.

“Businesses these days come and go, it’s hard to stay put,” Gould said. “So for us to be there that long, we’re awfully proud of it. And to be able to stay there, in the same center, but get more visibility and a lot more space, it’s just a win-win.”

Gould’s will be able to utilize the lower level for spa treatment services, something it isn’t able to offer in its current capacity. And because the salon and spa is almost doubling its existing space, a handful of new jobs will be created.

Although Gould’s has been a tenant in the center since its inception, the relocation of such a quality tenant to the Poplar frontage will do wonders for its business and the center alike, said Shawn Massey, principal with The Shopping Center Group LLC.

“As we have become more of a car-oriented society, street visibility has become more critical for growing a retailer’s business,” Massey said. “The other benefit will be to the overall center. By putting a well-known established retailer in such a prominent position, it may only draw more people into the center.”

Poplar Plaza’s current occupancy rate is 88 percent. But almost all of the existing vacancy is intentional, Smith said.

That’s because it’s being held for tenant relocations, which are part of the approaching redevelopment, which includes Gould’s, Osaka, a new Comcast store and a newly constructed Kroger.

Once the relocations are complete and the redevelopment vacancies are taken out of the equation, Poplar Plaza will be 98 percent occupied with only two vacancies, one at 4,500 square feet, the other 2,025 square feet.

The relocations will begin during the fourth quarter and should be completed by the end of first quarter 2012, Smith said.

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