Opening day of Tanger Outlets at National Harbor lures shoppers before dawn

November 22, 2013

The grand opening of Tanger Outlets at National Harbor was scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, but some eager shoppers began their vigil long before sunrise. In fact, many said they had waited a lifetime for the brand-name stores that had bypassed Prince George’s County.

“I can stay in the county that I live in and spend my money,” said Sabrina Davis, 46, of Accokeek, Md., who arrived about 8 a.m.

The new stores, many still smelling of fresh paint, played host to residents who had taken off the day — or at least the morning — to see what the open-air center had to offer.

There are 80 stores, among them designer-brand outlets including Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Cole Haan and Coach.

There are covered and uncovered landscaped courtyards where shoppers can take a break while working their way through the $100 million, 340,000-square-foot center.

There are jobs: The mall, almost 99 percent leased, added 900 full- and part-time retail jobs to the county.

And there was traffic.

Some civic leaders and neighbors had opposed the shopping center, worrying about increased traffic in an area known for having some of the worst gridlock in Prince George’s. On Friday, even before the mall opened, traffic backed up from Harborview Avenue onto Oxon Hill Road, with morning commuters sharing the road with shoppers.

About 80 county police officers were in the area directing traffic. By the time Tanger Outlets opened, most of its 4,000 open-air parking spots were filled. So as traffic crawled along Oxon Hill Road, they started sending cars to nearby National Harbor, about a mile away on the banks of the Potomac River.

Mall officials said they expect 75,000 to 100,000 shoppers over the weekend.

Many residents got an early look at the retail space during a pre-opening event Thursday night. Sam Pipkin of Accokeek, a budget officer at Fort Belvoir, stopped there when he saw cars going in. He saved about $30 on a pair of casual shoes at G.H. Bass.

Residents in the majority African American county have long complained of being snubbed by commercial businesses, even though Prince George’s is home to some of the nation’s most affluent and highly educated black residents. County leaders say Tanger Outlets will make the county more competitive in the regional retail market as well as signal the county’s continuing transformation and climb toward economic equality.

It’s estimated that the center will bring an additional $6.5 million in annual sales tax revenue for Maryland and gross $1 million in property tax revenue for the county.

“This really is what we said the new Prince George’s County is,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said while walking outside the gleaming storefronts during Thursday night’s reception. “For the first time in probably 25 to 30 years, people can actually come to Prince George’s County to shop, eat and be entertained.”

County Council member Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington) said that despite traffic concerns, many residents are happy to have the mall in their back yard.

Gwen S. McCall, president and chief executive of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp., said the outlet mall “will send a message to the broader retail community that they should consider Prince George’s County.”

“And it will make it easier for us to be able to pitch to retailers to try to get them to consider their business here,” she added.

People who came out for the grand opening were given a 20 percent discount pass good at several stores in the mall, which revved up employees as well as customers.

“I love outlet malls!” exclaimed Margo Bonner, 51, a taxi driver from Upper Marlboro. She took the day off and arrived at 7:20 a.m. to be one of the first at the mall.

“Yeah, baby — I am so excited!”

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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