VOL. 131 | NO. 220 | Thursday, November 3, 2016
Midtown Kroger Opens With Pedestrian Focus on Busy Union Avenue
By Bill Dries
The carillon at Idlewild Presbyterian Church played the University of Memphis fight song Wednesday, Nov. 2, as the parking lot of the Midtown Kroger filled with cars. A block away a fire truck’s siren mixed with the church bells as the truck left the Union Avenue fire station to a call.
In some ways it was another day on the stretch of Union between McLean Boulevard and Lemaster Street.
But the Kroger parking lot is no longer the frustrating, tightly spaced, quirky experience it once was. And the new 74,000-square-foot Kroger built where the parking lot used to be opened Wednesday to the ultimate good review – Facebook videos on social media, some live – showing broad aisles and lots of new features not possible in the old, smaller store.
“Man, let’s cut this right now and go get some food,” state Rep. G.A. Hardaway said as shoppers continued to come and go around the ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked the opening. “It’s my store. That’s why my suit is a little tight.”
The opening was two days short of 10 months since the old store on the site closed. It had remained open while work began on other parts of the site, starting with the 2014 demolition of the Belvedere Apartments which stood where the new store is located on the lot.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen said the Wednesday opening was his third opening of a Kroger. He produced a blow-up of a Memphis Press-Scimitar picture of him as a child with his mother at the 1952 opening of the Kroger store in Poplar Plaza. Cohen had a more formal role in the reopening of the remodeled Poplar Plaza Kroger in 2013.
The opening of the Midtown Kroger, formally known as Store 402, is the last in a series of store overhauls for the supermarket chain’s Delta Division, which made $100 million in improvements to the stores in a realignment as Kroger bought some competitors, including the Schnucks chain in the Memphis market.
“We’ve got a lot of remodel projects that are currently on the drawing board. And we’ll start next year inside the Memphis area as well as other areas,” said Scott Hendricks, president of the Kroger Delta Division. “We’re constantly looking to upgrade every year and spend a bunch of capital to get new décor and cases, not necessarily expand.”
Kroger’s new Arlington marketplace store is scheduled to open next year and Kroger recently opened a new marketplace store in Hernando, Mississippi.
Many of those involved in the design and construction of the Midtown Kroger were patrons of the old store.
Brad Schmiedicke, project manager of the Pickering Firm Inc., said the discussions and meetings with his neighbors on the building’s design were difficult even though he was a regular. Work on the site began three years after a CVS store on the southwest corner of Union and Cooper Street drew vocal opposition when it replaced Union Avenue United Methodist Church.
“They were contentious at points,” Schmiedicke said of the meetings with neighborhood groups about the Kroger project. “I don’t know when was the last time an entire block of Union was developed like this. It’s a template that demonstrates you can put a bunch of retail on Union, park it and still have a fantastic pedestrian boulevard and it’s going to work.”
That could continue. Two blocks east of the Kroger, the Midtown Market development of Belz Enterprises and Harbour Retail Partners is nearing construction. The developers plan to build a competing supermarket across Idlewild on the Union Avenue side of the development at McLean Boulevard, and build new apartments on the McLean side of the mixed-use project.
Landscape architect Ritchie Smith is another Midtown Kroger regular who worked on the project and talked about how it will change Union Avenue – gradually.
“It should be, but it is not a pedestrian friendly street. That will happen over time, block by block, project by project,” Smith said. “What this represents is a long block of first-class streetscape that follows the Unified Development Code without exception.”
The sidewalk is separated with an 8-foot grassy section that will include 100 new trees along and on the parking lot to be planted in early December. There is a brick wall along the Union Avenue border of the parking lot that matches the brick on the store’s exterior. And the sidewalks connect with sidewalks into the neighborhood south of the store property.
“You have this pedestrian enhancement that leads right up to the store,” Smith said. “It really sets a tone for what Union and other Midtown arterial streets can be.”