Business

$7 million entertainment complex Stars and Strikes coming to north Columbus by June

BY TONY ADAMS

tadams@ledger-enquirer.com

This image of the bowling lanes at the Stars and Strikes in Woodstock, Ga., is what the facility in Columbus will look like when it opens this summer.
This image of the bowling lanes at the Stars and Strikes in Woodstock, Ga., is what the facility in Columbus will look like when it opens this summer.

A 57,000-square-foot entertainment complex that blends bowling, laser tag, bumper cars and an arcade with a restaurant, bar and meeting space is landing in the former Front Porch of the South thrift mall building in north Columbus by June.

The $7 million center at 7607 Veterans Parkway, called Stars and Strikes, will be the ninth such attraction by an Alpharetta, Ga.-based company launched a little more than a decade ago. This will be the first location outside of the Atlanta area, with it having eight there.

“We look for markets that have young families,” Stars and Strikes co-founder Chris Albano said Thursday. “You guys have really vibrant youth sports programs in Columbus. That’s our niche. We do a great job with birthday parties, sports team parties, any kind of youth event. It’s certainly not all that we do, but it’s a big piece of it, because we feel if we connect with families and children we’re successful when it’s all said and done.”

Stars and Strikes albeit is on a much larger scale, this is the second business to make a move into the vacated thrift mall structure, which sprawls over 100,000-square feet. Last September, local residents Jessica and Jimmy Fullerton unveiled plans for their Launch Trampoline Park franchise. It will be a physical activity entertainment venue, with trampoline, dodgeball and possibly an obstacle course or bubble soccer.

Jessica Fullerton said Tuesday that construction on the 25,680-square-foot park, which will be positioned near the back of the overall building, is now under way and expected to be completed by mid-April. The parking lot may take a little longer to finish because of the persistent rains the area has experienced this winter. Employees must be trained as well before the park’s debut.

“We’re going to open sometime in the spring,” she said. “We don’t want to announce a grand opening date until it’s closer to construction being complete and we’re receiving our certificate of occupancy. We don’t want to schedule or reserve any birthday parties and group events and then have to cancel them.”

The Fullertons were aware of the likelihood that Stars and Strikes would be entering the old Front Porch building when they signed their 10-year lease, she said, but they would have located there either way.

“I think that Columbus can handle more family entertainment venues, and we thought that it was a good match,” Jessica Fullerton said. “We’re excited about that venue in general. It’s going to be a nice thing for Columbus to have.”

Albano, who founded Stars and Strikes with friend Jack Canouse, opening the first location in Cumming, Ga., in June 2005, said their connection to Columbus Bank and Trust ultimately led them to this market.

“CB&T has done a lot of our financing for our projects up here in Atlanta. They’re the number one lender for our company,” Albano said. “Every time we visit them in Columbus we love the city and we’ve got to know the people really well because we’ve been down there a lot. Certainly, we mutually thought what a great market it would be for our concept. So that’s kind of what started it.”

A Jan. 22 city building permit shows that Stars and Strikes, listed as Columbus Entertainment LLC, is generating $3.4 million in construction at the Columbus entertainment center site on Veterans Parkway. Work on the Launch Trampoline Park is listed at $500,000.

Albano said the Stars and Strikes project total is close to $7 million, with it employing about 120 people full- and part-time when it opens in June.

“It’s a big investment, but when you see it finished out you’ll see why,” he said. “There’s a lot of high-end finishes, and a really high-end feel to it.”

The choice of the north Columbus site was a bit of a no-brainer, the Stars and Strikes executive said. It’s situated a couple of miles from the shopping and dining hub called Columbus Park Crossing. The area itself is high growth in population, businesses and vehicle traffic.

“We looked at a few locations. We looked at dirt. We looked at existing buildings that went dark,” Albano said. “But we wanted to be up on the north side. We just kind of figured if they can have that many million square feet of retail on one street, Whittlesey up there, that was enough for us to see. That tells us that a lot of people visit that area.”

Since it’s first center in Cumming, the company has followed with locations in Lawrenceville, Dallas, Stone Mountain, Sandy Springs, Loganville, Buford/Mall of Georgia and, last June, Woodstock. That’s the one the Columbus store will most resemble — in flooring, colors and lighting — when the construction dust settles and the doors open.

“The bar is kind of the hub of the facility,” Albano said. “It’s somewhat centralized and services the whole facility. You can see the game room from there. You can see the bowling lanes. People can come and watch the football games there. We have the NFL Ticket.”

Stars and Strikes does get plenty of adult traffic in its centers, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, he said. But the restaurant, which seats 100, routinely draws customers of all ages who grab a bite before or after bowling or playing games in the arcade. It does a decent lunchtime business as well, he said.

Rounding out the operation is a corporate event room that can seat more than 200 people. There also are multiple birthday party rooms. Full in-house catering is “top of the line,” Albano said.

The executive said Stars and Strikes is starting to post positions for management and supervisor positions, with hourly jobs being filled closer to the center’s opening. The company also is preparing to seek approval from the city for its alcohol beverage license.

“We wouldn’t want to open up without that,” he said. “We are in the process of getting our application in right now. It will be full service liquor, draft beer and bottle beer.”

The company itself is moving into an expansion mode, but it will be slow and steady, said Albano, acknowledging Augusta, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., are good possibilities, along with a location or two in Alabama.

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