DALLAS — After months of speculation, the plan to build a fashion mart downtown here became a reality Wednesday, as developers said construction will begin today with the intent of opening for January market.

“We’re the boutique hotel of the fashion industry marketplace,” said John Sughrue, a principal in Brook Partners, the developer and project manager.

Dubbed Fashion Industry Guild, or FIG, the mart will occupy the first floor of Southwestern Plaza, a five-story building across from the Fairmount Hotel on Akard Street on the corner of Ross Street and less than a 10-minute drive from the Dallas Market Center.

FIG is touting itself as a high-design environment that will present juried women’s contemporary and bridge sportswear, accessories and better men’s lines in an entertaining style.

“What you’re seeing is an expansion of the fashion industry — not dissimilation,” Sughrue asserted, adding the success of the New Mart in Los Angeles was a model for this project. “The industry compelled us to do the deal. [Reps] literally kept signing one lease after another until we realized we really had something on our hands.”

FIG so far has signed leases with 23 tenants who will occupy 20,000 square feet of the 50,000-square-foot ground floor. Among the 300 lines represented by tenants are Trina Turk, Tracy Reese, Nanette Lepore, Nicole Miller, Me & Ro, Michael Stars, Rayure, Renfrew and Tommy Bahama. Three of the leases are with firms that do not currently have permanent showrooms in Dallas: TSS Sales, Findings and Kristi Harris.

In a meeting at the building Wednesday, Sughrue, his partner, architect Lyle Burgin, and Gavin Smith, a former rep who is now director of FIG, sought to portray FIG as an extension of the industry here rather than as a competitor of the Dallas Market Center, which is preparing to unveil a showcase for fashion in March in the World Trade Center. They presented FIG as an opportunity to strengthen the market in Dallas, which has suffered from waning attendance in the past few years. “If we can collaborate, then one and one can be three,” Sughrue said.

However, Bill Winsor, president and ceo of the DMC, said, “Dallas Market Center has been in the business of bringing buyers and sellers of apparel together for almost 40 years, and the latest proposal [by FIG] for 20,000 square feet of mixed apparel product on a single floor is exactly what buyers and exhibitors tell us they do not want. That’s why we are spending more than $20 million for FashionCenterDallas — an efficient and comprehensive marketplace with the leading apparel lines merchandised into neighborhoods under one roof, with ample parking and the customer service buyers and exhibitors have come to expect. Our nearly 600 tenants and the thousands of lines committed to FashionCenterDallas are a testament to the overwhelming support for our project. Construction is ahead of schedule as we create the next-generation marketplace in the customer-friendly World Trade Center.”Meanwhile, Peter Rauch, who represents Tommy Bahama and other collections, said, “Our industry can afford more locations, and what we are building here is a perfect complement to the World Trade Center. Our goal here is to sell Dallas.”

“There is a view that the Dallas fashion industry is one building, and we are presenting another way to do this that will be healthy for the industry overall,” said Federico Mariel, a rep who has been instrumental in pushing for a downtown mart. “We need to find ways to promote our industry.”

Brook Partners, which also has developed several loft and office buildings downtown and the Magnolia Theatre arts cinema at the West Village mixed-use center, is investing $2.5 million to $3 million for the ground floor, which is currently a vacant shell, and the firm anticipates investing another $2 million to $2.5 million to finish the basement and second floor. It will promote the project with a road show to buyers in Southwestern cities. Plans call for a soft opening in January and gala festivities in March.

The developers hope to expand next year into the second floor with additional permanent tenants and into the basement to hold temporary shows that they expect will be managed by an existing trade show operator.

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