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Dueling Proposals Fuel Dallas Flap

DALLAS — The competition to win the hearts and leases of sales representatives here is getting more aggressive.<br><br>Two developers who propose to create a new fashion complex downtown held another formal meeting here Tuesday at which they...

DALLAS — The competition to win the hearts and leases of sales representatives here is getting more aggressive.

Two developers who propose to create a new fashion complex downtown held another formal meeting here Tuesday at which they introduced industry veteran Marsha Timson as head of leasing for the project. They also said they have tightened their construction schedule so showrooms could begin moving into the complex in December 2004, nine months ahead of the timetable they announced late last month.

Timson is well known here, having served as vice president of leasing at the International Apparel Mart before moving to the California Market Center in Los Angeles to hold the same position there.

Paul Stell and Luke Crosland, the developers who want to convert the Mercantile Bank building into a wholesale fashion center across from Neiman Marcus’ headquarters, provided more details of their plans at the pitch to sales representatives and other interested parties in the spacious but chilly second-floor lobby of the vacant tower.

“We want to create a fashion market that is the marquee of this eight-block area,” asserted Stell as he addressed about 70 people.

Seeking to address some of the questions that have been raised about the project, Stell named two big buildings downtown in which showrooms could be housed in between the closing of the International Apparel Mart in March next year and the opening of Fashion District Dallas the following December.

He offered to pay moving costs for the switch to interim quarters as well as into the renovated Mercantile building. Stell also sought to allay fears about sufficient parking by noting that the building will have valet parking plus 7,800 parking spaces in nearby garages.

After the presentation on two large screens, Stell and Crosland said they would begin remodeling in July if they have secured leases for 100,000 to 200,000 square feet of space. The building is expected to contain 425,000 square feet of showroom space and 75,000 square feet of retail space.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Market Center Co. issued a statement Tuesday declaring it has received an “outstanding” response to its plan to move its 600 Apparel Mart tenants into the World Trade Center, which already houses gift and home furnishings showrooms. The relocation project, dubbed “MomentumDallas,” also has been tweaked.

A key change is that accessories showrooms will now be located on the 13th and 15th floors in closer proximity to apparel tenants, which are slated to occupy the 14th and 15th levels of the WTC. The DMC initially had planned to put accessories showrooms on the seventh floor near fine jewelry and bead suppliers, but some reps objected that it was too far from apparel showrooms.

“On seven, you would be six floors away from the apparel customer,” noted Kathy Flahavin, who owns an eponymous accessories showroom and lobbied against the move to the seventh floor. “A lot of people shop us between apparel appointments, and would they really make it all the way down there and find me?”

The 13th floor will also house temporary showrooms during markets in accordance with the DMC’s original plan. The DMC also plans to add permanent and temporary space for men’s wear on the seventh floor.

Fully 90 percent of Apparel Mart tenants have made preliminary claims on 90 percent of the available square footage in the WTC, the DMC said.

Sales reps and manufacturers are mulling the merits of the rival proposals, both of which offer to help pay to finish out showrooms. Both groups are also meeting with prospective tenants in New York and Los Angeles.

“Something has to be done to stop the attrition, period, and the World Trade Center is not the answer,” asserted Hoyt McFall, a principal in the Mider Group bridge showroom who came to hear the presentation at the Mercantile. “Here they have a real strategy to reinvent the market. I think it’s fabulous. It’s our only future.”

Flahavin, on the other hand, saw more advantage to moving to the WTC.

“So many of our customers do use the World Trade Center, and it’s a little bit more appealing for us to be in the World Trade Center where they are already shopping,” she said. “To go downtown and be separate does not make sense to me because the buyers will have to split their time.”