Outlet mall fulfills decades-long dream for eastern Polk County

Patt Johnson Published 4:43 p.m. CT Oct. 16, 2017

When Outlets of Des Moines opens Friday in Altoona, it will be more than a discount shoppers’ paradise. The $100 million project will fulfill eastern Polk County's decades-long desire for a regional shopping center. “There’s been a lack of large scale retail options on the east side and this will fill a need there,” said Michael Barelli, vice president of New England Development, the Boston-based company building the outlet mall.

The 300,000-square-foot, open-air shopping center sits south of Bass Pro Shops in the growing Shoppes at Prairie Crossing, a larger retail, commercial and residential development along Interstate Highway 80 and Iowa Highway 65. It opens Friday with about 40 stores and will eventually add 25 more as retailers sign on to the project. “We expect to be at 100 percent occupancy next year,” Barelli said.

Nike Factory and Under Armour are two of the larger tenants, each with about 12,000 square feet. “We have deliberately been reserving space for a couple of larger fashion retailers,” Barelli said. He declined to name the stores, although announcements are expected this week leading up to the opening. 

The outlet mall will provide a mix of small and larger retailers and offer some shops that are new to Iowa or new to the Des Moines market. This will be the first Iowa stores for shoe merchants ASICS, Converse and Rack Room Shoes. And it’s the first outlet stores in Iowa for women’s boutique francesca’s, bag retailer Vera Bradley, and Yankee Candle.

“This is just going to expand the metro’s reach,” said Richard Hurd, a Des Moines developer who has a lot of retail and commercial projects across the metro, particularly in West Des Moines near Jordan Creek Town Center.

“We’re already bringing in people on the weekends from a 100-mile radius. And the more retail options we have, the more reason there is for people to come here,” Hurd said. Jordan Creek and the surrounding developments combined is the biggest retail draw in the metro, and the outlet mall will complement that, he said. 

Regional shopping malls like Jordan Creek serve a different segment of the market than outlet malls, said Maureen McAvey, a retail expert in Washington, D.C., familiar with the Des Moines market. 

“Each is largely attracting and serving different customers,” she said. Value-oriented shoppers looking for a unique mix of goods will be attracted to the outlet mall, she said. Regional malls like Jordan Creek, Merle Hay Mall and Valley West Mall offer a different shopping experience with department stores and specialty retailers.

“Jordan Creek is a terrific mall and they will be fine. Others may have to upgrade to compete,” McAvey said.

Iowa's only other outlet mall is Tanger Outlets in Williamsburg, about 90 miles east of Altoona. Tanger opened in 1991. 

A second outlet mall, Factory Stores of America in Story City, is closing. It opened in 1990 and in the last year only three stores were left operating at the mall: VF Outlet, Kitchen Collection and Udderly Quilts and More.

VF Outlet and Kitchen Collection are moving to Outlets of Des Moines. Udderly Quilts is closing.

The Des Moines metro has about 34 square feet of retail space for each resident, which outpaces the national average of 23.6 square feet, McAvey said. The outlet mall will further boost local numbers.

McAvey, a former senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute, said online shopping has changed the retail landscape as have millennials, who are shopping less than their parents. One result has been the decline of department stores. Shoppers continue to sidestep the larger stores in favor of smaller specialty businesses that focus on a narrower product line like Sephora or DSW.

Jim Miller, executive director of the Historic Valley Junction Foundation, thinks the metro is saturated with shopping options, but he doesn't see the outlet mall as a direct competitor to the West Des Moines retail district. 

Valley Junction has weathered pockets of retail popping up in the metro, including West Glen Town Center in West Des Moines and the East Village near downtown Des Moines, Miller said.

Quad Cities developer Mike Whalen has been working on the 230-acre Prairie Crossing project for years. He expects the outlet mall will be a catalyst for other larger developments.

His company, Heart of America Group, bought the property years ago with the intent of creating a shopping and entertainment center. Plans were derailed by the recession in 2008 when retailers pulled back.

Three years ago with renewed vigor, Whalen announced he had sold a chunk of the property to New England Development, a top outlet mall developer.

“Whalen was patient. He waited to do something cool with the property,” Altoona City Councilman Doug O’Connor said. “This open-air mall concept is pretty exciting."

Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse and a 107-room Fairfield Inn were the first commercial projects at Prairie Crossing. This summer, Whalen announced plans to build a casual sit-down bar and restaurant called Burger Shed on the shore of development's lake.

Hy-Vee Inc. will build a mini grocery store with fuel pumps nearby. And there are plans for a 109-room Home 2 Suites by Hilton, multi-family housing and two retail buildings with a combined 38,000 square feet on the south end of the property along Hubbell Avenue.

Whalen is completing about $6 million in road, sewer, water and electrical improvements along with grading work to the site that will allow additional development in the once vacant farm field.

Outlets of Des Moines
Address: 801 Bass Pro Drive N.W., Altoona
Size: Nine buildings on 32 acres, with 300,000-square-feet of retail space
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Telephone: 515-380-7400
Website:www.outletsofdesmoines.com
Parking: There are 1,410 spaces that encompass the horseshoe-shaped open-air mall
Transportation: DART’s Route 17 service to Altoona has been extended to Outlets of Des Moines.

Amenities

Seating areas throughout the center.
Family-oriented shopping carts.
Wi-Fi and food court charging stations.
Outdoor fireplace.

The stores

Asics
Auntie Anne’s
Bath & Body Works
Book Warehouse
Brooks Brothers
Brow Beauty
Carter’s Babies and Kids
Charleys Philly Steaks
Converse
Direct Tools Outlet
Express Factory Outlet
Famous Footwear Outlet
Fragrance Outlet
francesca’s
GNC
Kay Jewelers Outlet
Kitchen Collection
Lane Bryant Outlet
Le Creuset
Levi’s Outlet
Lids
Loft Outlet
maurices
Nike Factory Store
OshKosh B’gosh
Rack Room Shoes
Skechers
Teriyaki Boys
Tommy Hilfiger
Torrid
Toys R Us
Under Armour
Vera Bradley 
VF Outlet
Yankee Candle
Zales Outlet

Opening weekend 

Thursday 
5 to 9 p.m.: Open Doors Open Hearts, charity preview night with shopping, savings, prize giveaways, entertainment, food samplings and more. Tickets are $20 with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting 20 local charities. Purchase tickets at www.outletsofdesmoines.com. 

Friday 
9:30 a.m.: Ribbon-cutting ceremony with speakers, including Gov. Kim Reynolds, New England Development officials and Dean O'Connor, Altoona mayor pro tem.

Saturday
2 to 5 p.m.: Grill Master Big Moe Cason and local celebrities will judge a barbecue cook-off. Fifteen teams will compete with ribs, chicken and sausage.
3 p.m.: Celebrity stylist and Emmy award-winning television personality Carson Kressley will host a "Makeover Miracles" fashion show and makeovers of local participants.
6 to 8:30 p.m.: Country musician Jason Brown performs.

Sunday 
Noon to 4 p.m.: Kids day will feature activities for kids and their families, including face painting, balloon art, superheroes, princesses and more. Imagination Movers performances at 2 and 3 p.m.

 

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