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While the Outlets of Little Rock is expected to draw 120,000 shoppers during its opening weekend, the project developer was hesitant Tuesday about putting a name on what constitutes an “outlet” and how much of a price break shoppers could expect to receive compared with the same stores that offer merchandise at suggested retail prices.

Michael Barelli, vice president of Boston based New England Development the company developing the Outlets of Little Rock and similar projects mostly in the Northeast and East Coast told the downtown Rotary Club 99 that stores/tenants were under contract to offer merchandise at a discounted price.

Later, he said he “misspoke.” He said New England expects stores to offer prices consistent with those offered at the retailers’ other outlet stores in similar centers elsewhere in the country.

“Our leases with tenants have that language in them,” he later said about discounting prices, “but not all agree.” He said decisions regarding pricing is up to the individual retailers. As far as offering “seconds,” or retail items altered through minor fault of manufacture, that’s also left up to the tenants, he said.

The Outlets of Little Rock, at 325,000 square feet, opens to the public Friday at the intersection of Interstates 30 and 430 on a site developer Tommy Hodges has been working on since he bought the 176 acre tract for the Gateway Town Center in 2001.

The outlet mall, which began construction in June 2014, will have 70 retailers with space available for a handful more. The breakdown in retail offerings: 74 percent apparel and shoes, 13 percent accessories, 5 percent homewares, 5 percent beauty and another 3 percent miscellaneous, which is mostly food, Barelli said.

For a few stores such as Restoration Hardware Outlet, Under Armour Outlet, Brooks Brothers Outlet and VF Outlet their spot at the Outlets of Little Rock marks their Arkansas debut. A number of Arkansas based businesses are joining the outlet craze, as well. They include Smyly’s Memorabilia, with framed Hollywood and sports memorabilia items; Uniq, with home decor and women’s clothes among other items; Jonesboro based Gearhead Outfitters and Corky’s Shoes; Sweet candy and gifts; TCBY; and Sophitique from Searcy.

Hodges said Outlets of Little Rock should generate up to $100 million in annual retail sales, which translates to $6.5 million in state sales taxes, about $1 million in county taxes and $1.5 million in city taxes. The construction phase supported 1,000 jobs. Once open, the center will employ about 800 1,000 full and part time workers.

Over New England’s 37 years in the business,
polo ralph laurne Outlet prices up to stores
the development company has built 26 million square feet of retail space the equivalent of 47 Park Plaza malls, Barelli said. Last year, New England opened two outlet malls: Palm Beach Outlets in Florida and Asheville Outlets in North Carolina, which the developer converted from an existing mall to an outlet center. Also in the works are outlet malls in Des Moines, Iowa; Clarksburg, Md.; and Ann Arbor, Mich.

Barelli said the company’s recent push into outlet mall development has been driven by tenants who desire to open outlet stores in contrast to full price shops. Over the last five to 10 years, retailers also have been more willing to locate their outlet stores closer to metropolitan areas, he said. The Outlets of Little Rock, according to Hodges, is 12 minutes from downtown.

“Previously, outlet centers were out in the hinterlands, they were 40 miles from major cities,” Barelli said. The dynamic has changed, he said. Now they’re more willing to compete with their own full price department stores. And more retailers are willing to open outlet stores.

So why Little Rock? There are 1.1 million people more than 40 percent of the state’s population living within 60 miles of Outlets of Little Rock. The closest outlet mall to Little Rock is in Branson, Barelli said.

“It’s not convenient. It’s not an everyday shopping option,” he said of the competition. Some 95,000 cars pass the Little Rock center daily on Interstate 30, he added.

“Even if they’re not shopping with us, they’re passing our center, seeing our sign,” Barelli said.

What also attracted New England was Bass Pro Shops, which draws about 2 million visitors a year from nearly all 50 states. Barelli said Bass Pro Shops reported the Little Rock opening as its best of seven in 2013. The outdoor shop draws about half its customers from a 50 mile radius or farther.

“It brings customers that might not otherwise come and shop at the outlets and other tenants around it,” Barelli said.

Hodges, a planning expert who later became a residential and commercial developer, established infrastructure for The Grove adjacent to the outlet mall. He’s already signed one developer for the The Grove, which he hopes to fill with hotels and restaurants. He said Tuesday that he was working on several other deals for that area.

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polo ralph laurne Outlet prices up to stores
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