WOODSTOCK — As many as 25,000 people crowded The Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta during opening events Thursday as shoppers from all over poured into Cherokee County to check out the new mall.
The crowds taxed area roads, backed up traffic toward Atlanta and exceeded expectations of mall developers and store operators.
Gina Slechta, vice president of marketing for the mall’s developers, said the turnout for the opening of the mall, along with the traffic, was more than she expected.
“People from all over the world were at the opening, including people visiting Atlanta right now for the Microsoft convention,” Sletcha said Thursday evening.
By noon, the 1,781-car-capacity parking lot was already at capacity, following the official ribbon-cutting and opening event at 10 a.m.
The mall opening included performances by the Woodstock High School marching band and other entertainers, and throughout the speeches shoppers continued to pour into stores in search of bargains.
President and CEO Gary Skoien of Michigan-based Horizon Group Properties, who developed the mall along with CBL & Associates Properties, spoke to crowd of about 500 people attending the ribbon-cutting, saying he was proud of the new mall and hoped the community would be proud, too.
“There’s a lot of people involved in a project like this; this is an $85 million project,” Skoien said before the ribbon was cut. “It involves work by government officials, private contractors, retailers, bankers, you name it, lawyers, unfortunately, and a lot of other folks that are involved.”
The 370,000-square-foot shopping center has fountains, covered walkways, landscaped islands and about 90 stores. There is also space for an additional 30,000 square feet of expansion.
Skoien introduced his co-developer, CBL Vice President Michael Lebovitz, who also spoke at the ceremony.
“I want to thank all the elected officials. There are a number of elected officials, state, county, city of Woodstock, and a lot of other organizations, economic development, a lot of other people who have really been partners with us,” Lebovitz said. “We thank you for making today a reality for The Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta.”
The developers predict an annual $130 million in sales and $3 million in sales tax revenues.
Cherokee Chamber of Commerce Chairman Randy Gravely said the ribbon-cutting event was “truly a Chamber of Commerce day.”
“I’ve lived in Cherokee County all of my life, and over the past 40 years there’s been times where I can remember when we had to drive outside of the county to either shop, go to the doctor or dine,” Gravely said. “Ladies and gentlemen, those days are in the rear-view mirror. Those are the past, and today reaffirms that with the opening of The Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta.”
Gravely said the outlet mall would be marketed internationally, and visitors would be spending money that would help the city, the government, the economy, the school system and the county.
Cherokee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Buzz Ahrens said the project was a “terrific example of teamwork.”
“It’s all kind of a community event,” Ahrens said. “(Wednesday night) was an unbelievable event.”
The mayor and three members of the city council, Liz Baxter, Tessa Basford and Bob Mueller, stood on stage for the ribbon-cutting.
Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques said Thursday afternoon that at least 6,000 people bought tickets to the Wednesday VIP preview.
“I firmly believe this is the biggest thing to hit Woodstock since the railroad, and that says a lot,” Henriques said.
Traffic around The Outlet Shoppes clogged up the interstate and surrounding area into the afternoon on Thursday.
The Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta opened in Woodstock on Thursday with 97 percent of the stores occupied, including the following retailers and restaurants:
Ann Taylor Factory Store
Ann Taylor Loft
Berry & Berry/Tropical Sensations
C Wonder (coming soon)
Charleys Philly Steaks (coming soon)
Crabtree & Evelyn
Johnston & Murphy
Jos A Bank
Lids Locker Room
P.S From Aeropostale
Saks Fifth Ave. Off Fifth
Toys R Us
Villa Pizza (coming soon)
Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton
White House|Black Market