Big-Box Snub Leads To Idea For A Factory Outlet Mall
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
September 25, 2007
Plans for big-box stores in the North Meadows didn't pan out, so the developer is eyeing something different: a factory outlet mall.
Concerns that the Hartford neighborhood isn't ready for major retail caused various deals with Wal-Mart, Target, and Staples to collapse, and has led to a rethinking of plans for the 40-acre site just off I-91. Now the developers have a new, $75 million goal - Hartford Crossing Factory Outlet Center. Instead of names like Wal-Mart and Target, shoppers could see names like Nike, Cole Haan, Polo Ralph Lauren and Van Heusen.
"Almost every major manufacturer today of clothing accessories, soft goods, shoes - they all have an outlet business," said developer Adam Winstanley, of Winstanley Enterprises LLC. "We think it's a great neighborhood and we think it has all the characteristics to support an upscale retail project."
Original plans for the site were announced almost two years ago, and the developers have since worked unsuccessfully to secure an "anchor" tenant.
The location itself is made up of three parcels in an old industrial area dominated by car dealerships: the former site of direct-mail marketing company Advo Inc., the site of the commercial truck company Edart Leasing Co. LLC, and a roughly 10-acre vacant parcel between the two.
Edart needs a new corporate headquarters, and has its eye on about 12 acres of city-owned land on New Road near the Connecticut Expo Center. But before the city will sell Edart the property, the company and Winstanley must prove there is a viable retail plan for the site it is leaving behind.
"We've had a number of commitments from traditional retailers that just never materialized," Winstanley said. "The main reason is that retailers were just reluctant to make an investment into the North Meadows because they felt the immediate area was still a little too rough for their customers."
Not from a public safety perspective, but from one of public perception, he said.
Winstanley said he has hired a real estate brokerage firm to help sell the idea of an outlet center to prospective tenants. Should he get pre-lease agreements for 60 or 70 percent of the project, the deal would go forward.
At a meeting last week of the city's redevelopment authority, Winstanley - based in Concord, Mass. - and Edart got a six-month extension on the redevelopment parcel. John F. Palmieri, the city's outgoing director of development services, said that Winstanley needed the time "so that they can test the viability of this new approach."
"Things kind of fell apart, so they regrouped and are now asking us to reconsider what they believe might have been a better [approach] in the first place," he said.
Palmieri understands the challenge of marketing the North Meadows, he said. But he also said that "the credit world is tightening up a little bit and a lot of these big retailers are being much more careful about identifying new sites."
The state already has at least two major outlet malls - Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets in Clinton, and Tanger Factory Outlet Center in Westbrook.
Winstanley - whose company turned the old Hastings Hotel into the new Hartford headquarters of the Connecticut Culinary Institute - thinks the Hartford factory outlet would fare well at the location, better than a "power retail" center like the first one proposed because it would have a wider draw of customers. Whereas the old plan would have drawn people from at most 3 miles, the factory outlet draws from between 10 and 25 miles, he said.
"People drive much greater distances because of the discounts that manufacturers offer," Winstanley said. "This type of retail is doing extremely well on a national scale."
Winstanley said a safe and easy fallback for the site would be some sort of industrial use, but he'd prefer the outlet center.
"Our company believes that the time has come for the North Meadows to be developed with something of significance," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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