from the Citizen-Times (view story)
ASHEVILLE – For the first time in years, the parking lots are full again at 800 Brevard Road.
Once the site of the long-shuttered Biltmore Square Mall, the new Asheville Outlets attracted thousands of people to its 325,000-square-foot retail center even before doors opened to shoppers 10 a.m. Friday
By 8:30 a.m., mother-and-son duo Cindy Cox and Trevor Cox were already standing in the growing line outside of Rack Room Shoes, which was giving away $35 gift cards to the first 50 customers.
The footwear retailer is just one of the 55 stores at Western North Carolina’s first outlet shopping center.
“I made her come out,” Trevor Cox said, looking at his mother. “Forever 21 was opening and I was really excited about it and, of course, all the giveaways.”
The pair joked that they came with a mission to find deals and take advantage of all the opening day freebies. However, at the 9 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony, city and county officials listed other reasons for why they were standing outside the Asheville Outlets an hour before it opened.
“It’s a big moment here,” Asheville Vice Mayor Marc Hunt said of the outlet center developed by the Massachusetts-based New England Development company. “The importance of this outlet mall, Asheville Outlets, is really regionally significant. It’s regionally important. I’ve got friends that are still in Swain County that are excited about this and they promised they are going to be here.”
According to an economic impact study by New England Development completed in fall 2013, the Asheville Outlets will add an estimated $8.3 million a year in tax revenue on both the state and local levels.
The study also indicated that federal tax revenues are expected to increase by $7.1 million annually thanks to the shopping destination.
Standing in front of the south entrance of the Asheville Outlets, Hunt reflected on the gray-colored Biltmore Square Mall that used to stand there.
“As I observed the evolution of this site, and the retail presence here — it was very sad; it was disappointing for the last 10 years or so to observe its decline — and it is such an important and happy thing to have this evolve into something that’s really great,” Hunt said, noting that he still remembers when he and his wife visited the Biltmore Square Mall for the first time in 1991. “It’s a great day in Asheville.”
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Kit Cramer, president and CEO of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, held up her purse and a large, reusable Asheville Outlets shopping bag.
“Despite having broken toes, these are actually shopping shoes not just tennis shoes,” Cramer joked before turning her speech to more serious economic matters. “Not only do I appreciate the shopping opportunities that have been presented here with the opening of Asheville Outlets, we appreciate the investments in the community. Over 1,300 jobs will be created, literally here, and induced jobs, as well as $33 million in annual income that will be generated as a result of this development. That is great news and I can tell you all that local businesses are incredibly excited about this new development.”
Speaking after the ribbon-cutting event, Douglass Karp, the president of New England Development, said this is not the first time his company has breathed new life into the site of an old mall.
“A year ago, we opened a project in West Palm Beach, which was also a DeBartolo mall,” Karp said. “We built an outlet center down there and it’s doing great. The community down there seems to have really embraced it.”
Karp also said that the architect of the project tried to look at Asheville’s architecture to inspire the look and feel of the open-air center.
“It is a mall, but I think it’s more than that,” he said.
Inside the Nike Factory Store, Asheville resident Cedric Short contemplated the wall of orange shoeboxes before him. He already owns 12 pairs of the brand-name shoes, but he said he is always looking for more to go with his outfits. As he shopped, he wore a pair of Nike Air Max.
“I normally drive to Gaffney, South Carolina to their Nike Outlet. It’s one of my favorite stores,” he said, noting he has also been to outlet malls in Georgia, Alabama and, most recently, Mississippi. “I can’t believe how this used to be an indoor mall. It’s a big difference.”
The father of three children said he was the only early riser in his family for the Asheville Outlets opening day event, but he expects that they will all be back to shop at the new retail center as a family.
Tourists are also expected to be frequent shoppers at the Asheville Outlets, which is just off Exit 33 on Interstate 26.
According to the North Carolina Division of Tourism 2013 Visitor’s survey, compared with all of the state’s overnight travelers, visitors to the mountain region participated in a greater number of activities during their trips to the Tar Heel state.
Shopping, outpaced only by rural sightseeing, was the second most popular activity for visitors to the mountains, according to that same survey.
“I think people like to be in the outdoors. Especially in a place like Asheville. It’s all about the mountains and hiking, and all sorts of things that you can do outside,” Karp said, referencing the open-air design of the shopping center. “So, this is kind of in keeping with that. We do have a lot of areas that are covered areas so that when the weather is inclement, you do have places where you can get a little shelter.”
During Thursday evening’s “Open Doors. Open Hearts. Charity Preview Night” event, about 4,000 people came out to shop a day early. All of the $20 ticket proceeds went to 20 area charities.
Though there was some rain Thursday evening, it didn’t keep people from shopping.
Sharon Morgan, Asheville Outlets general manager, said she was proud to be the very first mall manager at the retail center.
“It’s been a pleasure working on this project for the past year, and I look forward to welcoming all of you in the days to come,” Morgan said about 20 minutes before blue confetti shot into the sky in celebration of the opening of the Asheville Outlets.
After the ribbon-cutting event, David Gantt, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, walked around the Asheville Outlets for the first time.
Holding a shopping bag in one hand, he said that about a decade ago, county commissioners considered moving all county offices to this site.
“At one point the county looked at buying this property,” he said. “About 10 years ago, we considered it and were serious about purchasing to consolidate every Buncombe County government unit in one place. We didn’t do it because it would rip a hole in the downtown area and we thought there would be a better use for it. And today, we see a better use.”
Asheville Outlets, located at 800 Brevard Road, will be open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday. For updated hours in the future, visit www.shopashevilleoutlets.com/hours