It's been about 2 years since Lawrence got its first factory outlet center, and now the city is about to become a two-mall town, a development that is being heralded in many quarters as positive for the community and particularly North Lawrence.
Stanley K. Tanger & Co., a North Carolina developer, went public Friday with its plans to build a 150,000-square-foot factory outlet center offering factory-direct merchandise in manufacturer-owned stores near the East Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. The center, the company's 18th, is scheduled to open next summer.
Steve Tanger, the firm's executive vice president, said the company had no intention of harming the existing Lawrence Riverfront Plaza, an outlet mall at Sixth and New Hampshire streets that is roughly the same size as the one Tanger plans.
Rather, Tanger, who said his company often is the second or third outlet center in a market talked of building a "critical mass" of outlet offerings that would increase Lawrence's drawing power for bargain hunters from throughout the region, ultimately benefiting both centers and downtown Lawrence.
Dawn Frankfort, editor of "The Joy of Outlet Shopping," a national consumer guide published in Clearwater, Fla., said the scenario Tanger presented is not far-fetched, even though Tanger's center will be built across the street from the interstate off-ramp and a mile away from downtown and Riverfront Plaza.
"PEOPLE WHO like to shop outlets like to shop outlets," Frankfort said. "They're really driven by the bargain, so a mile isn't really that far away."
Officials with Chelsea Group, the developer that operates Riverfront Plaza, are reserving judgment until they know which manufacturers will lease space in the new center.
"Until we know exactly who's coming, it's going to be hard to evaluate," said Michele Rothstein, Chelsea's vice president for marketing, based in New Jersey.
This year Riverfront Plaza reached 100 percent occupancy, and Rothstein said its trade area has expanded as far as Wichita, with group tours and convention business emerging as one of the center's strengths.
More than 70 percent of the Riverfront Plaza's business is from out of town, Rothstein said.
Frankfort said the presence of two outlet centers in one market will increase the likelihood of Lawrence becoming an all-day destination if the two centers are marketed together.
"They're going to hit one, and then the other," she said of shoppers, noting that more out-of-town visitors also would be given an opportunity to shop downtown.
Earl Reineman, president of the Downtown Lawrence organization, said he expects Tanger's center to have a positive impact on downtown.
"I THINK in this day and age what retailers want to do is create a concentration of stores within a close proximity of each other. And when that's done, it's good for everbody," Reineman said, adding that sentiment among downtown business owners appeared to be pro-Tanger.
"It's a strong consensus that this will help us and we'll help them," he said.
Reineman said he would expect Downtown Lawrence to participate with Tanger in a joint marketing program and noted that Downtown Lawrence and Riverfront Plaza already mention each other in their independent marketing efforts.
"It's a very cooperative and mutually beneficial relationshiop we have with the Riverfront Plaza, and we would expect to extend that to the new outlet center," Reineman said.
Frankfort said the addition of a second outlet center also is likely to increase the number of people, particularly travelers on the turnpike who are drawn into Lawrence by outlet mall billboards and then decide to spend a night in the city.
Frankfort said that market is likely to spur new development along North Second and North Third streets, which the city has targeted for rejuvenation. She predicted that motels, restaurants, service stations and other businesses interested in out-of-town visitors' trade would sprout along that corridor into the city.
BOB MOODY, president of North Lawrence Improvement Assn., said he saw some of the same possibilities in Tanger's announcement.
"I think it has the potential to be the real catalyst to getting things cleaned up on North Second Street," he said.
Moody predicted his support of the project would be shared by North Lawrence residents. NLIA has received back about 300 of 975 surveys it circulated to residents in which the possibility of an outlet mall was raised. Responses were decidedly positive, he said.