Walk This Way

Frank Quinn, general manager at The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, discusses the economic impact of the nation’s first upscale outlet center in a downtown area.

While the mighty Mississippi has always been a source of commerce and entertainment for New Orleanians and tourists alike, The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk has changed the face of life along the riverfront.

Celebrating its first anniversary this month with 100 percent of its space leased and more than 75 retailers and restaurants, Riverwalk has transformed over the past year into a destination that has welcomed more than 3.5 million shoppers and diners, 58 percent of which were locals.

While preparing for the outlet center’s first participation in French Quarter Fest, General Manager Frank Quinn took a moment to speak with Biz New Orleans to share his enthusiasm for hospitality and to remind us of those convenient parking spaces.

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 Biz New Orleans: What does a typical day look like for you?

Frank Quinn: My day starts off early in the morning by making sure the center is clean, safe, secure and ready for the day. We welcome 25,000 visitors on weekends. We’ve had a lot of spring break visitors for the last few weeks, and with conventions we get even busier.

I also help make sure all the merchants have what they need. There was a real need in New Orleans for additional retail space. The city wasn’t on many retailers’ radar in 2011 and now almost every indicator is up, our population and airport numbers are up, and cruise ships, the convention center and New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation are all doing a great job of bringing people to the city.

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I try to get out in the food court and greet visitors at lunch time. It’s been a great surprise to us to see the number of locals who are visiting. It wouldn’t be surprising if we saw 90 percent tourists, but it has been wonderful to see locals make up 50 percent of our visitors. Of course with limited access to the riverfront, we feel Riverwalk also provides some of the best views and experiences along the river.

Biz: How are you celebrating your one-year anniversary?

FQ: It’s Memorial Day weekend and we are doing different events all weekend long. We are working on a “Locals Appreciation Day” where we will offer complimentary parking to all visitors. The idea is to show locals that parking is both convenient and available. There are over 3,000 parking spots with one easy validation system, and visitors get $7 off the parking rate on a normal day. We want more locals to experience it and see how easy it is to park.

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We are also partnering with the New Orleans Film Society to show “Jaws” outside at Spanish Memorial Plaza at Sunset on May 24. Everything we do is to support our retailers. We are also working with them to highlight and push out all the sales they will have using social media channels and our website.

Biz: Looking back, what have been the biggest challenges?

FQ: I think the biggest challenge was going from being completely closed for a year and being a construction site to being all of the sudden open without any soft opening. We did a big grand opening weekend last Memorial Day and it was the first time we had visitors into the center in over a year. Getting the stores and our vendors everything they needed was a challenge and one we were able to meet thanks to a huge amount of support from our corporate office.

Biz: Over the past year, what have you done the best? What did you do that you can improve upon?

FQ: The best was the successful transformation of the center and welcoming locals back to the Riverwalk. When I first got to the mall in 2008, we were only 30 percent occupied and it had somewhat of a failing feel to it. When Howard Hughes Corporation took over in 2010, we immediately thought this site had incredible potential. In working with our leasing and development team, we pitched to retailers and worked with the city to redevelop the site. We got it done and 100 percent leased with retailers – almost all of which made their year-end goals.

We are really proud that we were able to welcome national brands that didn’t have a presence in New Orleans, and we helped bring first-to-market stores including Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio, Tommy Bahama Outlet, Puma and Kenneth Cole.

I think something we can really improve on is taking Spanish Plaza and making it more a part of day-to-day life for locals who work and visit Downtown. The plaza doesn’t host nearly the number of events and festivals that it could. We did Bastille Day last summer and we look forward to having it again this summer on July 11.

Biz: With 100 percent occupancy, are there plans for the Riverwalk to grow and expand?

FQ: We are looking at opportunities, whether they are inside the center or ways to improve our footprint. We don’t have anything to announce just yet, but we are always looking to improve the center and make it a better destination. Many of the retailers we have own multiple brands, so if one of their stores is doing well, they are looking to bring their other concepts in to the center.

Biz: What has been the economic impact on the city?

FQ: It’s been great. The sales tax numbers are up citywide. We expected to do over $100 million in sales in our first 12 months, which translates to well over $4 million in sales tax that goes directly to the city. We employ over 1,000 people – combining our staff and all the retail staff. That number is even higher during the holidays.

We really hope it encourages locals to shop Downtown. We hear about the nostalgia factor of shopping Downtown on Canal Street and when you combine us with Canal Place and other stores there is really enough density for people to get what they need without driving to the suburbs. That has an enormous impact on tax support for our police and fire departments. Currently, there is over $1 billion of retail spending being lost to neighboring parishes.

Biz: Have you worked with the city on the ferry service?

FQ: We stay in close contact with the RTA. We love having the ferry at our front door. We are one of the most touched public transportation locations in the city, thanks to the streetcar lines, ferry and buses. It really benefits us and the RTA to keep a close working relationship and do everything we can to support each other.

Biz: How did your partnership with French Quarter Fest and Harrah’s come about?

FQ: We have been inquiring for five years if the Fest needed more space and with last year’s record attendance, this year they took a look at it. We couldn’t have been more excited when they invited us to join the Fest. Harrah’s is co-sponsoring with us.

This is the first time the French Quarter Fest has expanded outside of the French Quarter. We are thrilled to have them at Spanish Plaza and to be able to have one parcel upriver. French Quarter Fest is one of the best ways for locals and tourists to experience the French Quarter during the day and we couldn’t be happier about the partnership.

Through our renovation we made Spanish Plaza more event-friendly. We improved power and lighting and put in new landscaping with lower growth for better sight lines. The ramp provides easier load-in and load-out and we cleaned up the entire arcade and applied new stucco, signs, lighting and signage. We didn’t replace the historic marble donated from Spain to the City of New Orleans, but we did fill in the holes to make it a smoother surface. It’s the same plaza but it’s much more event-friendly and a more pleasing environment. 


Stores include popular high-end favorites, along with first-to-market stores including Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio, Tommy Bahama Outlet, Puma and Kenneth Cole.


Riverwalk now boasts more than 75 retailers and restaurants – a draw for both locals and tourists, including from the booming cruise industry.



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