DALLAS — Developers last week gave up their bid to create a downtown fashion mart here when they failed to garner sufficient interest, but despite the stumbling block, a handful of contemporary sales representatives are not willing to let the concept die. They are working to create a similar wholesale venue in a different building a few blocks away from the first proposed site.

"The biggest problem with the project was this interim gap where people felt they were in limbo between the closing of the Apparel Mart and the opening of the downtown venue [the Mercantile Building]," asserted Federico Mariel, a contemporary sales representative. "We’ve been able to find another building that will be ready for us to move into in September and have our first show in October, and it’s a really incredible restored historic building."

The International Apparel Mart is scheduled to close next March, and many of its tenants plan to stay within the Dallas Market Center complex by moving to the World Trade Center, which already houses wholesale showrooms for gifts, furnishings, lighting, toys and fine jewelry. Space selection on the fashion floors of the WTC is nearing completion, said Bill Winsor, chairman and chief executive officer of the Dallas Market Center Co.

"We have heard from a number of individuals who were contemplating space downtown, and we are working with them to try to accommodate their showroom needs in the World Trade Center," Winsor noted.

But Mariel and about five other Dallas reps still want to create a new downtown mart that focuses on contemporary fashion, much like the New Mart in Los Angeles.

"Between us and people in Los Angeles and those on the fence here, we can get 30 tenants," Mariel claimed.

The group is negotiating for space in the 21-story Neoclassical Davis Building at 1309 Main Street near Neiman Marcus’s flagship. Built in 1926 and vacant for many years, the Davis Building is currently being renovated into loft apartments with a rooftop pool and terrace. Completion is scheduled for August.

Mariel has met with fellow reps Suzanne Collier, Julie Hall and Pam Martin, as well as Marsha Timson, whose contract as consulting president for the first downtown project expired Wednesday, to work on a business plan. The group hopes to hire Timson to manage the center and is aiming to offer space at less than $20 a square foot.Hall, who reps accessories, toured the building with some of her peers.

"It is an immediate move-in," she said. "It breaks my heart that the Mercantile did not work, but it still does not change the way we feel about the industry and what needs to be done for the industry."

The deathblow to the plan to create a mart in the 31-story Mercantile Building came when Liz Claiborne and its divisions, which were considered pivotal tenants for the project, opted to go to the WTC. Paul Stell, the lead developer in the Mercantile project, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

"There just wasn’t enough critical mass right now to make that big building work," commented Nancy Hormann, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, a downtown promoter that helped to push the Mercantile project. "It is hard enough to make a deal like that, but to have a year in between in interim space killed it."

Hormann is working with the reps on the new space and is hooking them up with complementary businesses.

"The restaurants and hotels downtown would love to have something like this, so they are very willing to help market this to the buyers with packages to entice them to stay downtown," she said.

Many of the most influential sales representatives in the Apparel Mart are skeptical about the plan.

"Most of our customers do not want the industry to be split, and most are very excited about what’s happening at the World Trade Center because they like the venue and there is a comfort level," said Jamin Whitaker, president of GeNe Sales. "I also think the World Trade Center is doing an outstanding job with this project, and when it is done, it will be a top-scale venue with great food that’s easy to shop, in ‘neighborhoods,’ and will have temporary venues like what they do at Coterie."

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