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Prime Retail breaks ground on Outlet Village

December 02, 1997

Prime Retail breaks ground on Outlet Village

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

The developer of a new $40 million outlet mall being built on the Hagerstown outskirts said he sees a full-page newspaper ad run by a competitor Tuesday as free advertising for his project.

"I'm glad he did it. He probably spent $10,000, $15,000 advertising our project. I love it," said William H. Carpenter Jr., president of Baltimore-based Prime Retail. "All it did was get more people out today."

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Carpenter was in Hagerstown Tuesday for the official groundbreaking for the first phase of Prime Retail's Outlet Village of Hagerstown, scheduled to open in summer 1998 at the Sharpsburg Pike/Interstate 70 interchange.

Construction of the "village-style" outlet mall - planned to be completed in three phases totaling more than 410,000 square feet and 100 stores - actually started in mid-October and will continue through the winter, Carpenter said.

The first phase will include about 50 stores and an enclosed food court employing about 400 people and generating $2 million to $3 million in annual sales taxes, he said.

Held at the site in a heated tent with a four-piece brass ensemble, the groundbreaking event drew a number of state and local officials, including all five Washington County Commissioners, state Dels. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, and Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary James Brady.

A full-page ad for the Blue Ridge Outlet Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., that ran in The Morning Herald asked customers to remember "as ground is broken on the Hagerstown 'outlet mall' the best outlet shopping in this region is just down the road in Martinsburg."

Carpenter called the ad "just childish behavior," indicative of how the Blue Ridge Outlet Center's owner has acted since Prime Retail started the ball rolling on its Washington County project 2 1/2 years ago.

Blue Ridge Outlet Associates of Martinsburg sued Prime Retail, asking that the company be barred from building the outlet mall or else be forced to pay Blue Ridge $10 million.

The suit, eventually settled out of court, said Prime Retail broke the terms of a confidentiality agreement it signed during negotiations to purchase Blue Ridge in 1993.

Tuesday's ad was nothing more than aggressive marketing during the peak shopping period of the year, said Blue Ridge general manager Tom Rice. He said the outlet mall has taken an aggressive approach in marketing throughout its 14-year history.

That approach has been key to Blue Ridge's continued success through the opening of other outlet centers and malls in the region, Rice said.

"There's competition in retail every day. I intend to compete with who's out there, whoever they may be," he said. "I just wanted to remind people in the media hoopla over there that we were here."

The Blue Ridge Outlet Center on West Stephen Street in Martinsburg has 56 stores, Rice said.

An estimated 90 percent of its customers come from outside West Virginia, he said.

The outlet center regularly runs ads in The Herald-Mail and other newspapers throughout the region and commercials on cable television as well as marketing through its Web page, Rice said.

Considering the time of year, taking a whole page in a newspaper is not unusual, Rice said.

The regular price of a full-page, black-and-white ad in The Morning Herald is $1,724.73, according to advertising services clerk Tammy Walker.

But the price would be discounted if the customer had signed a bulk advertising contract with the newspaper based on the volume of advertising, Walker said.

State officials said they see the Outlet Village of Hagerstown as a boon to the state and local economy and a way to keep Maryland residents' outlet dollars in the state.

For years, Washington County residents have been loading buses to outlet malls in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Donoghue said.

"They say build it and they will come. That's what we're doing here today. We can stay right here in Hagerstown and they will come," he said.

Brady credited Washington County with "creating an environment that really works for business."

"That's what business is looking for, a friendly attitude in government," Brady said.

Washington County Commissioners said they're glad Prime Retail stuck it out through numerous hurdles, including the Blue Ridge lawsuit and lengthy dispute of the county's rezoning of the 43-acre site.

The mall will be an excellent addition to the mix of businesses that have come to the county in the past two years with a range of new jobs, said County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

The sales tax generated by the project will mean hundreds of thousands of dollars coming back to the county, which isn't putting any money into the project, Snook said.

Construction of the 210,000-square-foot first phase will create about 300 jobs, according to Carpenter, who said most of the subcontractors on the project are local.

Once the outlet center opens, it will employ about 400 people, eventually growing to up to 1,000 employees when the two other phases are completed, he said.

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