Olive Garden eyes sites in Kingsport; Pavilion could expand by 50 percent

Rain Smith • Mar 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Between the Kingsport Pavilion and East Stone Commons, the Model City has seen a plethora of new retail developments over the past few years.

And despite the woeful economy, more shopping options are cropping up along Stone Drive, developers want to expand existing centers, and Olive Garden is reportedly eyeing Kingsport locales.

That’s all good news for Jeff Fleming, assistant city manager. He says representatives of Merchants Holding Co. LLC, a Texas-based corporation that developed Kingsport Pavilion, were in town late last month.

According to Fleming, they are “very eager” to begin phase two of the project. That entails developing about 25 additional acres beside Kingsport Pavilion, which currently covers 50 acres.

“You hear us say tenant driven a lot of times, and tenant driven basically means they don’t start building until they have a tenant rather than build speculative space,” Fleming said. “We’re hopeful they’ll have some tenants they can custom build for in the near future, and that will help us fulfill the full potential of that development.”

Currently within Kingsport Pavilion, national chain restaurant Zaxby’s is building a $587,000 building, and there are two outparcels in various stages of negotiations for restaurants.

“We’re hopeful something will come from that,” Fleming said of the restaurant negotiations. “Of course we understand with the national economy being the way it is that things might move a little slower than any of us had hoped.”

Fleming verified the hopes of many Kingsport citizens, saying Olive Garden is eyeing locales in the Model City.

“Several real estate brokers in the community have indicated that they are looking, but we have no indication, any firm things to announce I should say,” Fleming said.

Other than within Kingsport Pavilion, the vacant Cootie Brown’s building in East Stone Commons has been rumored as a landing spot for Olive Garden. Fleming said he’s “very optimistic” a replacement restaurant will take the place of Cootie Brown’s, which closed in October.

However, due to that building’s unique structural design, “it probably will be demolished and rebuilt.”

“I’d prefer to wait until a building permit is issued before any announcements are made,” Fleming said of the Cootie Brown’s parcel. “People get so excited about it, and then if it doesn’t happen they think we didn’t do something, or we could have done something differently. But we don’t really have a lot of control over what happens at that location.”

Back at Kingsport Pavilion, Best Buy is scheduled to open April 19. Fleming said it has the potential for generating half the projected income of the entire shopping center.

“Obviously, electronics and technology are very important to have in your portfolio when it comes to your retail sales,” Fleming said.

A short distance away, other construction projects hold ramifications for Kingsport Pavilion. At the corner of Highway 11-W and New Beason Well Road — where Ralph’s Bar and Grill and Kingsport Transmission used to stand — a Walgreen’s is being constructed.

Crews are also grading the area for a new Kingsport Fire Station and speculative retail shopping.

And one day, shoppers could enter Kingsport Pavilion from New Beason Well Road.

“In negotiation with the developer and the land owner we left a road in place that could eventually connect to the second phase of Kingsport Pavilion and provide access to New Beason Well Road and the traffic signal,” Fleming said.

“We’re trying to set in place some things for the future.”

Also of note on 11-W, the building that once housed Kingsport Leisure Lanes has recently been demolished. Fleming said it was purchased by an out-of-town investor, and they believed the property was more valuable without the bowling alley in place.

“It has a lot of potential,” Fleming said. “Folks that have been here a long time have talked about the superhighway between Bristol and Kingsport being 11-W, and how the two cities were going to grow together. Of course here we are 40 or more years later, and that really hasn’t happened. So it’s taken us a little longer than I guess we had hoped to achieve that potential, but clearly we’re on the right path now.”

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