ATLANTA — AMERICASMART IS IN GROWTH MODE, WITH A MAJOR new gift mart expansion that will also allow for growth in key areas of apparel.

This story first appeared in the December 5, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Construction is under way on a 1.5 million-square-foot addition to the gift mart, referred to as the West Wing. Set for completion in 2008, the first market for the new space is January 2009. When completed, the new wing will contribute to a total 7.7 million square feet of space at AmericasMart — what officials call the world’s single largest collection of product.

The new building will showcase home, garden and gourmet products, with dramatic design and merchandising elements that reflect the trend toward entertainment-oriented, experiential retail.

“This will be a themed, Disney-like environment that’s fun, exciting and appealing to the senses,” said Jeffrey Portman, chairman and chief operating officer of AmericasMart.

The new space breaks the mold of traditional walled showrooms with open spaces that set the mood for each product category. Romantically lit, tree-lined boulevards and a two-story waterfall greet buyers in the garden products area. Housewares and gourmet product are showcased in an open market setting inspired by Pike Place Market in Seattle. Multimedia presentations by personalities such as the Food Network’s Paula Deen and Sandra Lee will be piped into the building during markets, Portman said.

To encourage cross-shopping among gift and apparel buyers, the new building includes three new bridges that connect it to the apparel mart. The West Wing will absorb gift and resort product that is now housed on floor 14 of the apparel mart, freeing up that area to double the size of Children’s World, which currently occupies 200,000 square feet of space on floor 13.

Along with children’s apparel, the new children’s floor will include juvenile product, including furniture, home accessories, gifts and art. Children’s exhibitors will also expand into the temporary exhibit space of the building, on floor three, and participate in both apparel and gift markets.

Prom and special occasion categories have been signature strengths for AmericasMart, and will continue to be promoted through marketing and special events. The August market, which draws national prom buying groups and retailers from all over the country, has consistently been one of the strongest shows of the year, officials said.

With prom and children’s wear as established areas, AmericasMart is out to build the same product density in high-end contemporary areas by bringing in lines new to the Atlanta market and showcasing them in new exhibit formats.

“There’s been an explosion of contemporary product here, although it wasn’t what Atlanta has been known for in the past,” Portman said.

The NY/LA Co-Op, a collective of contemporary showrooms, launched two years ago on the ninth floor with just a few showrooms. Since then, it has expanded to 30 showrooms and 90 lines, and spans three of four quadrants of floor.

Original lines include premium denim companies, such as Chip & Pepper, Seven For All Mankind and Citizens of Humanity, but the area has evolved with changes in the market, adding more contemporary sportswear, such as William Rast, Da-Nang and BB Dakota, in the past year.

One of the area’s original tenants, Carlos Marin, principal of CX2, a Miami-based multiline sales representative, said his business in the Southeast territory had more than doubled in the past two years.

“Now that all this product is here, lots of the Southeast stores that used to go to New York and Atlanta can bypass New York,” he said.

Contemporary product is also a big portion of the mart’s temporary exhibit areas, including Premiere, the second-floor collective. At the October show, Premiere had a record 300 lines, in 187 booths, including contemporary resources such as Ed Hardy.

Last year, AmericasMart began combining its men’s show, called Alpha, with women’s markets four times a year, excluding the August show.

The Alpha show has 70 percent streetwear and Urban product, generating buzz with personal appearances by LL Cool J, who launched his line Todd Smith by LL Cool J here at the October market. With 20 percent women’s product, many of the lines have been spin-offs of the Urban men’s wear lines, such as Baby Phat.

Chuck Corvi, project manager of Alpha men’s show, has been promoted to project manager of all the temporary exhibit product areas, including women’s apparel, and said the Alpha show will begin to target more designer business and mainstream casual sportswear this year.

A new jewelry show, called Fire & Flash, launched in 2007, and will continue for the April, August and October markets. The show combines the 90,000 square feet of permanent showrooms with a new 20,000-square-foot exhibition hall on the third floor. At the October market, 40 jewelry lines showed bridge-priced semiprecious and fashion jewelry, most targeted toward specialty store buyers looking for a unique alternative to department store jewelry lines.

AmericasMart’s marketing initiatives for 2008 will continue to focus on treating buyers to parties and special events at Atlanta’s arts and leisure attractions. Last year’s parties for buyers and exhibitors at such venues as the High Museum of Art, the Georgia Aquarium and the Atlanta Botanical Garden drew up to 600 people.

Other conveniences for buyers include a self-check-in kiosk at buyer registration that allows registered buyers to skip the lines, and a shop late program on Sunday nights that gives buyers access to showrooms after hours. The mart also offers buyers free specialty food and drink, such as ice cream, chocolate fountains and cappuccino during markets.

Portman said that, with the strength of home and gift and the new leadership in leasing, AmericasMart has momentum to become the nation’s dominant market outside of New York.

“Buyers have so many places to shop,” he said. “We have to constantly reinvent ourselves to create excitement and give them a reason to come here.”