Kroc Center Opens to Big Crowds

By Michael Waddell

To cap off Healthy Heart Month, the new 100,000-square-foot Kroc Center held its open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony last weekend.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., from left, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.’s Greg Duckett compete in a treadmill challenge.

(Photo Courtesy of Greg Campbell, Baptist Memorial Health Care)

The state-of-the-art Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center has welcomed more than 10,000 visitors in its first few days.

“The response from guests has been amazing so far,” said Jonathan Rich, Salvation Army area commander of the eight-county Memphis metropolitan area.

On Monday, Feb. 25, guests included Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. senior vice president in corporate counsel Greg Duckett, who faced off in a treadmill challenge.

“They officially declared it a tie, but personally I think I won,” joked Duckett. “The real purpose of the event is to bring awareness to the Kroc Center and, more importantly, the Healthy Memphis initiatives that we are all supporting.”

Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald’s restaurants, started the foundation to build Kroc Centers in communities around the U.S. Seven years ago Memphis was selected as one of the cities to house a center.

Following four years of construction by general contractor Montgomery Martin Contractors, the Memphis facility opened as the 27th Kroc Center in the country. Renaissance Group was the architect of the Challenge Center, while a joint venture of Fleming Associates and brg3s handled the remainder of the project. Other key team members were landscape architects Ritchie Smith Associates, civil engineers Goodwin & Marshall, structural engineers Toles & Associates, plumbing engineers Watson Consulting, and mechanical/electrical engineers Pickering Inc.

Built on the northwest corner of the Mid-South Fairgrounds, the facility was funded by $31 million from the Kroc trust and an additional $25 million raised from more than 750 local donors. The center is also endowed with another $55 million to run the facility, which will eventually staff more than 100 people.

Baptist, one of the founding partners in recruiting the Kroc Center to Memphis, purchased the equipment and financed the Baptist Memorial Health Care Fitness Center at the Kroc.

“Baptist, with our focus on the broader health community health care needs, felt that a natural role for us to play in this endeavor was to help equip the fitness facility,” Duckett said. “It has everything you could want to see in a modern day workout facility.”

Kroc members can work out with the latest treadmills, weight machines, elliptical trainers and stair climbers, and every piece of equipment can be scanned with a member’s smartphone to see instructions on how to use.

Every Kroc Center is unique to the community where it is located.

“Before a Kroc Center is ever designed or built in a city, there is a needs committee study done to look at what the community needs in a particular area,” said Rich, who points out the Memphis center features a focus on basketball and soccer instead of tennis.

The state-of-the-art facility also features a demonstration kitchen with classes led by food services manager Quan Anderson, a 300-seat auditorium that can be used for musical and theatrical performances, the FedEx gymnasium with two full-sized basketball courts, an indoor soccer field, an Olympic-sized pool, an aquatic center and the three-story AutoZone Challenge Center, an interactive problem-solving, team-building experience for preschoolers to adults.

“It really is one-of-a-kind. We are not aware of anything else like it in the entire country,” Rich said. “The people who did the actual theming have worked on Disney attractions, so when you walk in it really feels like you are in a different environment.”

Kids, led by adult leaders, go through the various challenge areas like the Earthquake Room, Boiler Room, Jungle Room or Medical Room and complete various missions.

Baptist’s goal is to help Memphis become healthier, starting with providing an affordable place for families in Memphis to exercise.

Families of four can join for $50 per month, with an additional $10 per month per extra family member, and single memberships are $30 per month. Already the center has signed up between 1,600 and 1,700 memberships, and Rich expects to be past 3,000 before the six-month mark. The center will also offer summer camps for members.

Heart disease, the focus of Healthy Heart Month, is the leading health problem in the Mid-South. Exercise and a healthy diet are the first lines of defense to overcome your risk factors.

“There’s a need for all Memphians to get more engaged, and as Mayor Wharton put it ‘get on the move’ to get healthier for our own well-being,” Duckett said.