Downtown shopkeepers sat up and took notice last fall when Stanley K. Tanger & Co. announced plans to build a factory outlet center in North Lawrence, right off the Kansas Turnpike.
Some merchants, including the owners of the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza Factory Outlets, became worried it could suck their business and tenants away.
Others saw it more positively it could bring more shoppers into Lawrence from the turnpike. However, even they wondered what could be done to encourage the traffic to drive south 1 miles to the city's downtown core.
Uncertainty about the project's potential effects on downtown Lawrence merchants was evident last week. Representatives of the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza and Downtown Lawrence Inc. were able to persuade the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission to delay the project a month.
NEXT MONTH, the commission will consider tighter zoning for the project. The 10-member commission will consider rezoning the proposed mall property to a designation of planned commercial development, or PCD-1. The commission hopes with PCD-1 zoning, it can ensure the Tanger project complements the downtown.
And the commission hopes problems about traffic and drainage at the site can be resolved.
The Chelsea Group, which owns the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza, is somewhat leery of the Tanger project, said Dan Watkins, a local attorney who represents the factory outlet mall owner.
"First and foremost, Chelsea doesn't believe they have a right to a monopoly in the Lawrence market," Watkins said. "But they do have some concerns regarding the synergy of additional outlets that are not located in the downtown area."
CHELSEA wants to make sure that Tanger's projections for the project are valid, he said.
For example, Tanger has said its mall would provide an upscale tenant mix, with a focus on women's apparel, which would be complementary to Chelsea's factory outlets, Watkins said.
Also, Tanger predicts about 50 percent of its traffic would travel downtown.
"If half the traffic comes downtown, that could be helpful," Watkins said. "But we want to make sure those assurances have some basis in fact."
Myles Schachter, president of Connecting Point Computer Center, 813 Mass., and a former Lawrence city planner, has participated in meetings for the past three months between Tanger and downtown merchants.
THE TANGER project, Schachter said, has the potential of bringing large amounts of traffic into Lawrence.
"Or it could act as a lock, siphoning traffic that might go downtown," Schachter said. "There's no way of knowing which of those scenarios will occur. And therefore, most people downtown are nervous, but supportive."
Those who support Tanger want to make sure that signs at the Tanger mall would direct traffic to also visit downtown.
"The bottom line was no one knows what the end result will be, but we're all willing to take some risk so that we all benefit," Schachter said.
Earl Reineman, president of Downtown Lawrence Inc., said DL members think the project has great potential for the city, for North Lawrence and even for the downtown, if certain issues are addressed.
ONE ISSUE is synergy creating a mutually beneficial link between downtown and the Tanger project.
"What we would like to know is how we go about creating that synergy, and we look forward to sitting down with Tanger and Chelsea and with the convention and visitor's bureau and try to come up with ideas of how to create synergy," he said.
Chelsea, which is located in a difficult place along the river, has greatly enhanced the downtown with its presence, Reineman said. Now, the community needs to be sensitive to Chelsea.
If Chelsea loses business, local taxpayers could face a heavy burden of paying for the city-owned parking garage at the factory outlet center, Reineman pointed out.
Traffic questions and making sure the Tanger mall is an attractive gateway to the city are also important to consider, Reineman said.
"WE'RE WILLING to support it, as long as these items are addressed," he said.
Bob Moody, president of the North Lawrence Improvement Assn., said he's heard from about 50 people who were angry the planning commission delayed the Tanger project.
"The people who have called me do not understand why people would not support the outlet center," Moody said. "Many have voiced that (the planning commission's action) is a form of prejudice against North Lawrence."
The Tanger project, the NLIA thinks, could be a catalyst for improving several problems along North Second Street and North Third Street traffic, drainage and aesthetics Moody said.
WINT WINTER JR., a Lawrence attorney who represents Tanger, said the hearing at the planning commission last week showed there was no hard evidence presented that the Tanger mall would not help the downtown and the Riverfront mall.
"Anyway there is no test that requires an applicant to prove with certainty there will not be an economic impact anywhere else in the community," Winter said.
Winter said Tanger has met with downtown merchants and has offered to meet with Chelsea representatives about resolving their fears about losing tenants to Tanger.
About half of the potential tenants in the first phase of the mall have made conditional commitments to Tanger, and none are currently tenants at Chelsea, Winter said.
TANGER HAS proposed to downtown merchants a joint marketing plan, financing for joint marketing and other activities and cooperating with the downtown on starting a shuttle transportation system linking the two malls and downtown, Winter said.
"We proposed signage and a brochure rack for downtown and for Chelsea if they do the same for Tanger," Winter said. "I'm very confident with the initiatives that we've taken that the project will be approved."