During the height of the 2012 shopping season you may have noticed a pair of announcements about two (yes, two) new large scale outlet mall developments planned at the interchange where Interstate 71 meets State Routes 36 and 37 (the Delaware/Sunbury exit in Delaware County).
While the Columbus Underground Messageboard has already been buzzing with plenty of discussion on this topic, we decided to get an expert’s opinion to figure out what exactly this development news means and find out whether or not Columbus really needs two new retail centers located just 10 miles north of the Polaris Fashion Place mall. And when we need an expert opinion on retail, we turn to Chris Boring of Boulevard Strategies, who has previously provided us with thoughtful and educational commentary on Downtown Retail, the Retail History of Columbus, and Yearly Retail Trends.
Our interview with Chris on the topic of the new Central Ohio Outlet Malls can be found below:
Walker Evans: Chris, can you share with us some of your initial thoughts on the 350,000 square foot Tanger Outlet Mall announced back in November? Is the retail economy in Columbus in a position to support this type of new retail outlet center?
Chris Boring: The national outlet mall industry has been enjoying a somewhat surprising renaissance in recent years. The industry was very over-built in the 1980s and 1990s. There were too many under-capitalized small developers building projects in out-of the-way places. Many of these projects failed but by the early 2000s, the surviving outlet malls emerged stronger than ever, including Prime Outlets in Jeffersonville. By 2005, the industry began to build new again.
Eight new outlet centers opened in the US in 2012, totaling 3.5 million square feet, and two others expanded. The last time a new enclosed regional traditional mall was opened anywhere in the country was in 2006. Outlet center sales increased by 9% in 2012 vs. 4% for all retail.
This may be why the nation’s largest retail real estate investment trust (REIT), Simon Property Group of Indianapolis surprised observers by buying an outlet mall company in 2004 in spite of its massive regional mall holdings (locally, Simon owns the Mall at Tuttle Crossing). Today, sales per square foot from Simon’s 72 outlet malls are 90% higher than sales per square foot at their traditional malls. Simon owns more outlet centers than any other company, including Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, which owns 39 centers. Craig Realty Group is a distant third with 12 outlet malls, mainly located out west.
One of the most important trends in outlet mall development in recent years has been building ever-closer to large metro areas near major malls. This is because manufacturers are becoming much less dependent on department store buyers, as the department store segment has shrunk and consolidated. In addition, department stores have increased their levels of private label merchandise, squeezing out vendors. Meanwhile, manufacturers began producing items exclusively for their own outlet stores and they found they were making more money through that channel than from selling to department stores. Today, there are 322 outlet chains, with an average of 46 stores per chain, according to Value Retail News (VRN).
I think that a good outlet mall would be well-received by Central Ohio shoppers. We do not have much outlet retail in Central Ohio these days, but I recall when I first moved to Central Ohio in the 80’s, the JC Penney outlet store on Brice Road was a major tourist attraction. A Tanger/Simon outlet mall would be a shopping experience different than anything else locally.
The median household income for shoppers at Tanger outlet malls is about $69K per year, 40% above the national median, according to its website. Delaware County’s median household income is just over $90K per year
Statistically speaking, Central Ohio has enough population to support about 400,000 square feet of outlet mall space, according to my calculations. Support from travelers and visitors from outside of the area is a wild card as there are no real tourist attractions in the area (other than the Cabela’s gun and ammo palace soon to open near Polaris) but there is definitely room for one 350,000 square foot outlet mall at this site.
WE: Well, shortly after the first announcement, a second 350,000 square foot outlet mall was announced in the exact same area by the Craig Realty Group, who you mentioned earlier. It sounds your calculations are saying that if both malls are built within the same proximity, there’s certainly a risk of overbuilding, right?
CB: I see the second outlet mall project as being a long shot. I believe it would be very risky to open two outlet malls at the same location at the same time. Most likely, only one will be built. Tanger, the nation’s second largest outlet mall developer, and Simon, the largest REIT and largest outlet mall owner, make a formidable team. Delaware County is their third partnership following Tanger Outlets Houston and the upcoming Tanger Outlets Charlotte.
I am also troubled by the emphasis that the Shively/Craig site places on having a soccer complex as an anchor. There are a lot of developers and communities all over Central Ohio in hot pursuit of this project.
This includes my colleague, the wily Bob Weiler, and his partner, Nationwide Realty. Mr. Weiler and Nationwide have mixed-use plans for acreage to the north of the 36/37 interchange. They are lobbying for ODOT to add a second interchange to the north while Craig/Shively Group wants it to go to the south to serve their site.
WE: Yea, there’s been talk of ODOT expanding this 71/36/37 interchange for awhile now. Either way, what impact do you think this highway development will have on traffic for that area?
CB: Delaware County is basically screwed. This is what happens when you ignore sprawl and give developers free rein. Anybody who drives I-71 North knows that the 36/37 interchange has been way overdeveloped over the past decade. Now, it cannot handle its traffic loads and needs to be expanded. But ODOT has little money for new construction so they must let in developers to pay for the infrastructure improvements desperately needed. Once the interchanges are improved, they will instantly be overwhelmed by all the additional new traffic from all the bargain shoppers and soccer moms et al. And on and on…
WE: What impact do you think will these outlet malls will have on other retail centers in Central Ohio, such as the nearby Polaris, Crosswoods or Worthington Place, or retail locations further away such as Tuttle Mall, Grandview Yard or Downtown Columbus?
CB: The most impact will be felt by Polaris Fashion Place’s upscale department stores and luxury retailers. Ten or 15 years ago, Gucci, Michael Kors, Coach, and other designer labels often found in Tanger projects would not have opened one exit away from a mall the size of Polaris. Today, upscale department stores such as Saks and Nordstrom operate their own very profitable off-price chains which are often found in outlet malls.
Outlet malls sell designer goods for 30% to 70% off of regular retail prices for same products. Delaware County shoppers will say “why pay full price?” at Polaris.
Outside of Polaris, the impact of an outlet mall would be diluted. Its expected sales impact would be less than 2% of Central Ohio non-automotive retail sales and a sizable portion of those sales would originate from visitors and travelers from outside the region.
WE: Are there any other positive benefits or precautionary measures that we should be mindful of that comes with the introduction of a combined 700,000 square feet of new outlet mall space to Central Ohio?
CB: According to my statistics, shopping center space per capita in Central Ohio was 12 in 1980, then grew to 18 by 1990, then to 24 by 2000, and up to 31 by 2010. I know it’s probably been awhile since you took your SATs but does anybody notice a pattern here?
If we continue at this pace we will build another 15 million square feet of shopping centers (10 Polarises) in this decade, all while e-commerce keeps growing 15% a year, effectively replacing market demand for 800,000 square feet of bricks-and-mortar retail real estate each year.
The good news is, it ain’t gonna happen. Only select projects, like the HighPoint at Columbus Commons and a few others, will be financed and built. Obsolete malls and strips will be torn down and re-habbed into new uses.
An outlet mall is not so bad because it offers a different type of retailing than what we have and it brings in outside spending. I am hearing rumors, though, that big boxes already in Central Ohio are looking at the 36/37 interchange. I cannot see how more big box sprawl would be good for Delaware County or for Central Ohio. We have all the big box retail we will ever need.
For more information on Boulevard Strategies, visit www.blvd-strategies.com.