DALLAS — The battle to create a new apparel mart here rages on.
The Dallas Market Center Co., as reported, is working to move everyone from the Mart down the road into Fashion Center Dallas within the World Trade Center, a 15-story wholesale complex. Its rivals, Stellar Development and Crosland Investments, propose to create Fashion District Dallas in the former Mercantile Bank tower downtown.
The most recent dueling came during the fall market here, when Stellar and Crosland announced plans March 31 to create a new contemporary wholesale show in October called Encore, Encore.
Coinciding with that statement, the DMC gathered nearly 1,000 buyers and sales reps March 28 to declare that 75 percent of its fashion tenants had committed to opening showrooms in the WTC after the International Apparel Mart closes in March.
The latest developments exemplified the competitive tactics being used by the developers and the DMC, which are both striving to persuade sales reps and manufacturers to commit to their projects. Some sales reps reported that DMC leasing agents came by their showrooms during market with new leases and pens in hand and asked them to sign up for space in the WTC.
The developers’ decision to launch a rival market before the Apparel Mart closes confirms the fear of many reps and buyers who have said that the worst scenario would be if the Dallas market splinters. Some buyers have said that they would skip Dallas and shop in New York if the market fragments.
"It’s crucial that we stay together as an industry in Dallas," said Brad Ritz, owner of Ritz Group showroom, one of the Mart’s largest tenants. "I think there is a strong enough majority speaking for the World Trade Center that it makes sense for us to stay united in that arena for the benefit of all of us. If the market does split, they will only defeat themselves and the market."
But the developers drew a respectable crowd of about 400 sales reps, manufacturers, buyers and interested parties to their lavish announcement party at Neiman Marcus’ flagship Friday.
"The buyers’ big issue ultimately is, ‘Is this real?’" said Paul Stell of Stellar Development, the lead firm in the downtown project, speaking informally at the party. "We’re trying to convey that it is real."The developers claim to have more than 50 parties seriously interested in Fashion District Dallas, but admit that many firms have said they will sign up only if such influential brands as Liz Claiborne and Laundry commit to it. Those brands are said to be weighing their options.
"We’re leaning toward this, but we have not made a decision," said Allyson Siler, the regional representative for Poleci. "They have an amazing team they have put together."
Pam Roberts, a retail consultant and former fashion director of the CaliforniaMart, has joined the project to direct the new October show and head up leasing efforts on the West Coast. Roberts said the new show would coincide with market week at the Apparel Mart. It will likely be held downtown in Bryan Tower because that building also can accommodate fashion tenants during the nine-month gap between the closing of the Apparel Mart and the scheduled opening of Fashion District Dallas in December 2004.
"My plans are to build a really strong trade market starting with a contemporary designer show, and as we continue to do markets based on bridal, men’s, misses’, children’s and juniors," Roberts said.
Reactions to the announcement at the party were mixed, with some reps saying they would show in the new venue and others expressing disappointment that the developers did not provide more information.
"I would do both shows [in October]," said Federico Mariel, a contemporary rep who supports establishing the new downtown center. "Let’s make it an event. They need to make a show that is different and over the top."
Al Sotello, a partner in SFLA showroom, said, "We are leaning in this direction because it is the core of Dallas and if you are going to establish a core for fashion, you do it in the core of the city. Our customers will love it because you have fine dining here."
"I have mixed emotions because I like everyone to be in one building," added Linda Reeves, owner of Signatures boutique in Monroe, La. "But I’m all for a new feeling and energy, and I’m open to see what will happen."Meanwhile, DMC chairman Bill Winsor addressed a huge crowd that had gathered in the Great Hall of the Mart for cocktails, his speech and the customary Friday evening runway show. Winsor asserted that more than 75 percent of the 600 exhibitors in the International Apparel Mart have selected 90 percent of the space in Fashion Center Dallas within the WTC.
When asked how many tenants had actually signed leases, a DMC spokesman said, "There are over 600 tenants at the International Apparel Mart who have leases in term with the DMC. More than 75 percent of these current leaseholders have selected space and we’re working out the design details and finish-out requirements with them."
Winsor also said the DMC is launching a "multimillion-dollar" marketing campaign — the biggest in its history — for Fashion Center Dallas. He added that the DMC has hired several marketing, design and leasing specialists to facilitate the move to the WTC.
Several buyers expressed support for the move, while many cautioned of fragmenting the market.
"The move to the World Trade Center is going to be one of the best things they could do," said Sue Johnson, owner of Susan’s in Fort Wayne, Ind. "This move will create a lot of positive energy and newness."
Sara Enzbrenner, contemporary buyer for Miss Jackson’s in Tulsa, Okla., said, "I’d rather that the Mart not be in two places. It could really hurt us if it’s fragmented. I like the idea of it being all in one place."
Harry Silva, owner of Weiss & Golding in Alexandria, La., said, "We firmly believe in the move to the World Trade Center and keeping everything under one roof. It will help buyers stay focused and make it easier to shop other categories, such as gifts and furniture."
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