In April 1990, Lawrence was on the verge of getting its first factory outlet center.
It was the city's response to a decade-old battle between those wanting a regional shopping mall and those fearing such a mall would destroy Lawrence's historic central business district.
When the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza Factory Outlets opened its doors for a ``soft opening'' on April 6, 1990, it appeared to be a great compromise -- a 150,000-square-foot retail center located on the north edge of downtown.
Three years later, Riverfront Plaza is full of tenants. It has proven itself as a magnet for out-of-town shoppers. And it is about to get some competition.
The Lawrence City Commission recently gave initial approval to plans for the Tanger Factory Outlet Center, which is planned in North Lawrence near the East Lawrence exit ramp from the Kansas Turnpike.
Tanger officials have said the outlet center would complement the Riverfront Plaza. And efforts are being made to direct those who shop at Tanger to also visit downtown and the Riverfront Plaza -- and vice versa. ``Synergy'' is a word shopkeepers are using to explain how the new retail relationship should develop.
DAVID LONGHURST, manager of Riverfront Plaza, said the jury is out on whether that concept can be successfully achieved.
``Tanger has suggested that what he anticipates having is a complementary mix to what we have here,'' Longhurst said. ``What he anticipates having is a somewhat different kind of tenant mix. If that is the case, it will give people more of a reason to come to Lawrence to shop, rather than dividing up the people who are already coming here.''
Some have suggested that when the Tanger center is built, North Lawrence eventually will be transformed into a northern extension of downtown.
``I think it's an untested concept,'' Longhurst said. There is potential, but the distance from downtown still will require most people to drive from one area to another, he said.
Longhurst said the $17 million, three-story Riverfront Plaza has come a long way since its initial opening three years ago. At that time, six shops were ready to do business in the factory outlet mall built by the Chelsea Group, a New Jersey-based developer.
By the grand opening about a month later, 22 retailers had opened shop in Lawrence's first factory outlet center, located at Sixth and New Hampshire along the south bank of the Kansas River.
Now the mall is full, with 50 retail shops selling clothing, housewares, sportswear, shoes, luggage and specialty items, Longhurst says.
``EVERYTHING has exceeded our expectations and our projections,'' he said.
Riverfront Plaza has generated from 400 to 500 full- and part-time jobs, he said. Longhurst said he couldn't comment on the amount of sales at the mall. However, using an industry standard sales generation figure of $200 per square foot of retail space, the mall probably generates about $30 million a year in sales.
The next step for the Riverfront Plaza is to improve its tenant mix as time goes on and do more to promote it and make it more appealing to shoppers, he said.
The mall will continue to offer community kinds of activities, such as its annual duck race for Cottonwood Inc., its Halloween night activities and provide a setting for crafts shows.
One of the latest changes at the mall is the removal of the raised platform in the food court area on the first floor. Removing the platform makes the food court area more flexible and accessible, he said.
MEANWHILE, the Tanger Center is still progressing through the maze of local and state paperwork before construction can begin.
Wint Winter Jr., a local attorney who represents Stanley K. Tanger and Co., Greensboro, N. C., said rezoning has been approved for the project, which will be located at the site of a North Lawrence lumberyard.
A final site plan has been approved by the city commission, and the company is proceeding to get approval for signs, a flood plain fill permit and for highway improvements before a building permit is issued.
Winter said that he hoped a building permit could be issued by May 1 and that ground-breaking would take place around June 1.
The first phase will be a 95,000-square-foot building containing about 89,000 square feet of leasable space, he said. Estimates are that the project will cost from $5 million to $10 million, Winter said.
The first phase calls for about 25 shops that would contain primarily women's apparel and other complementary businesses, he said.
He said an optimistic projection would be for the retail shops to be open before Christmas 1993.
The economic impact of the Tanger Center, based on a marketing study, shows the center would generate more than $2 million in real estate and sales taxes, Winter says. The study assumes a $5 million property valuation for the center and assumes estimated annual sales of $32 million, he said.
THE Tanger project would generate about 125 jobs full- and part-time jobs, he said.