New England Development on Thursday purchased 30 acres for about $5.25 million to build The Outlets at Little Rock in the Gateway Town Center.
The 325,000-square-foot open-air mall with 80 outlet stores is expected to open in the summer of 2015, creating 1,000 jobs.
New England Development will build and manage the mall at Interstate 30 and Interstate 430 in southwest Little Rock. It will be the only outlet mall in Arkansas.
Finding a developer and negotiating a deal on the project took about 18 months, said Tommy Hodges, president of the Hodges Group, which sold the land to New England Development.
Hodges said New England Development is in the “upper crust of developers. I expect them to hit a home run here.”
Mike Barelli, vice president of Newton, Mass.-based New England Development, said construction will start in late spring.
Barelli said in a prepared statement of the area surrounding the site: “The demographics are excellent, with nearly 40 percent of the state’s population living within 60 miles of the site. Little Rock … attracts 5.5 million annual visitors.” He said the city’s proximity to Hot Springs and its tourism economy were factors in deciding to select the site.
Barelli said in a telephone interview that he could not release the name of the tenants or how many have signed binding agreements.
The developer owns and operates 23 malls, retail centers, resorts - including a half-dozen on Nantucket Island, Mass. - and mixed use developments. It has five other projects in the planning stages.
New England Development was founded in 1978 and has built more than 50 million square feet of retail, commercial and residential space, Barelli said.
The firm also plans to open a 325,000-square-foot outlet mall at Asheville, N.C., in 2015, Barelli said.
“It’s a great company,” said Linda Humphers, editor-in-chief of Value Retail News, a publication of the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Outlet malls have evolved since the days when they carried “seconds,” odd sizes and oversupply items, Humphers said. The discount on prices is simply because of elimination of the middleman, she said, adding that some items are specifically made for outlets.
Humphers said the 440,000-square-foot Palm Beach Outlets, which New England Development is to open Feb. 14 in West Palm Beach, Fla., is probably a good indicator of what shoppers can expect at the Little Rock outlets.
The Palm Beach Outlets will have more than 100 stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th, J.Crew, Ann Taylor Factory Store, Banana Republic Factory Store, Kenneth Cole, Talbots, Under Armour Factory Store and White House Black Market.
The Outlets at Little Rock will join the Bass Pro Shops, which opened in November, in the 176.4-acre Gateway Town Center. A third phase of the center is projected, but plans on it have not been determined. Hodges said the deal on the outlet malls will “give us the critical mass” to attract hotels and restaurants. “We’re already working on the infrastructure for that,” he said.
In 2003, Little Rock granted Gateway Town Center status as a tax increment financing district, which means that some of the increased revenue from property taxes in the district can be used for infrastructure construction.
The Little Rock Board of Directors on Dec. 17 approved issuance of bonds to pay for a $2 million central road in the development. The Hodges Group will pay for $5.8 million in infrastructure work.
Humphers said outlet malls have flourished since the country came out of the recession in 2009.
Consumers wanted to have “the brands that they like and be able to pay lower prices for them. Outlet centers have done very, very well.”
Sales at outlets have soared 28 percent between 2009 and 2013, she said. In that period, there were 39 outlet malls built in the country, and only one regional mall, she said. She said she expects six to eight outlet malls to open this year and one regional mall.
Front Section, Pages 1 on 02/07/2014
Print Headline: Outlet mall soon to take shape in LR