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VOL. 122 | NO. 114 | Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Abandoned Kmart to Find New Lease on Life

By Andy Meek

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PIZZA PALACE: Tulsa, Okla.-based America's Incredible Pizza Co., is opening a 59,000-square-foot location in Cordova in late fall that will bring one of the chain's signature food and entertainment complexes to the city. -- Photo By Ian Danziger/Ibd Photography

The Cordova-area retail space formerly home to Kmart is being remodeled to make way for bowling lanes, a mini-golf course, go-kart track, video games, a pizza buffet and more.

The company behind the renovation of that vacant space at 1245 Germantown Parkway is Tulsa, Okla.-based America's Incredible Pizza Co., a company whose properties are veritable palaces of dining and entertainment options.

Besides the brightly lit bounty of games and activities packed into each store's entertainment center, for example, visitors are greeted in the parking lot by the sound of XM Radio's 1950s music channel, broadcast on a sound system both inside the store and out. In each store's main lobby, the sight of a fully restored '57 Chevy further helps set the retro mood.

And once the company opens the row of doors later this year to its 59,000-square-foot Memphis property, which will employ about 250 people, the surrounding neighborhood will have an even better idea of what the company is all about.

"We're extremely excited about the Memphis market," said Avery Smith, the company's vice president of sales. "Our focus is on families and kids, so consequently we want to be located in the heart and soul of middle class, hardworking, family-oriented communities."

Homage to a bygone era

The venture started five years ago with a simple concept, basically to create a pizza parlor with games for kids. Today, the restaurants in each '50s-themed complex offer more than 30 different types of pizza, and guests also can indicate how they'd like their pies to be prepared.

That idea became the crust upon which was sprinkled several additional business ingredients.

The result is a chain of properties built around fun and games and infused with the mood of old-fashioned ice cream parlors, soda shops and diners.

"The '50s theme was chosen because it's a throwback to a much simpler and more innocent time," Smith said. "Our desire is to offer families a fun, safe, clean and wholesome environment and what better era in American history to choose from than the 1950s?"

'Back to life'

The Memphis market apparently caught the eye of company officials by chance.

America's Incredible Pizza Co. generally doesn't build stores from the ground up. Instead, the chain usually takes over and remodels abandoned Wal-Marts, grocery stores and similar properties.

The food-and-entertainment venture found such an opportunity to enter the Memphis market by snagging the vacant storefront Kmart abandoned in Cordova in 2005.

That Kmart, along with two others Kmart closed in Memphis, had been shopped to potential tenants by a New York real estate investment trust (REIT) for the better part of a year. The result is that the quirky pizza chain inked a deal for the space, as did Hastings Entertainment Inc., a retailer whose stores offer everything from books to CDs, movies and video games.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, a dining concept with more than 330 stores in the U.S. and Canada, has signed a lease for an outparcel in front of the former Kmart store.

Area resident Brian Stephens, an attorney who's running for the Memphis City Council's District 2 position, said turning the vacant building and surrounding property into a family-oriented retail complex is the ideal use for land that's almost at the geographic center of Cordova.

"To have it spring back to life with the new Red Robin and America's Incredible Pizza Co. is great to see," he said. "We really want to encourage more businesses like this into the area. The most exciting part is the fact that my friends in Midtown will want to come to Cordova for family fun."

Big debut

The Oklahoma-based dining chain's Memphis store will be its first in Tennessee and the 14th store in the company's history.

Physically speaking, America's Incredible Pizza Co. stores are grouped into small- medium- and large-sized models, with the Memphis store falling into the large category.

Mark Chambers, president of the Cordova Leadership Council, sees the commercial patch blossoming at that site as a natural complement to other activities in the area such as First Tennessee Fields, a nearby baseball park along Fischer Steel Road.

"Each will offer their own unique activities for the area with more entertainment options and contribute especially well to the image that we see of ourselves: Cordova as family-oriented," he said.

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396