Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: New outdoor mall customers ask `Is this Albuquerque?’

During Jennifer Amos’ last three months working as a sales clerk in a Winrock Center store, customer after customer had nothing but questions about the new outdoor shopping center going up nearby.

When will ABQ Uptown be done? What stores will be there? What is the “live-work-play, unique urban community” going to be like?

Today, Albuquerque’s newest shopping center celebrates its grand opening. Like the birth of a child, the development has been bringing people from all over the Duke City to inspect the fledgling babe of an outdoor mall with gentle pokes and prods of curiosity.

To those mesmerized by the mystique of new stores, the flawless facades speak of Albuquerque’s transformation into a new place to live.

“When there are new things like this, it makes you feel like maybe you’re somewhere else,” Amos said while trying out a loveseat at the Starbucks in the new shopping center. “Like an escape from the usual things you do every day.”

Amos, visiting the cafe days before the grand opening, said stepping into ABQ Uptown is like stepping into a larger city, a place like San Francisco where she once screamed in delight upon seeing a Puma store.

Her first stop will be at White House/Black Market. It is open today, along with nearly two dozen other shops selling everything from clothes to computers to capuccino.

It’s a variety of stores laid out in a way that makes 30-year Albuquerque resident Jim Ahern say: “It doesn’t seem like Albuquerque.”

It reminds him of Scottsdale, and he doesn’t know if the Duke City is ready.

“I’m wondering if the population can support that level of retail,” he said while taking a walking tour of ABQ Uptown last week with his wife, Margo Ahern.

Nevertheless, he likes it. His wife likes it, too, especially the Coldwater Creek store. They liked it enough to brave cold, whipping winds as they strolled along wide sidewalks, some with still-drying concrete.

As they explored, cars crept by with wide-eyed drivers drifting their gazes over store fronts. Fences blocked some roadways. Many of the shops were locked as workers inside unpacked boxes, hung clothing and mopped floors in preparation for today’s opening.

A row of mannequins awaiting clothes filled one display window, a stack of boxes another. Construction workers in orange vests measured, dug and scraped. Music played through outdoor speakers.

“It’s bigger than I thought it would be,” Margo Ahern said. “I think this will do well until Winrock rebuilds.”

That shopping center’s rebirth is on hold, according to Theresa Miller, spokeswoman for its owner, Prudential Real Estate Investors of Parsippany, N.J.

The plans the owners filed with the city in May 2005 called for 66 multifamily housing units, 174 hotel rooms, new retail and restaurant space, a movie theater and office units.

But rising construction costs put up a hurdle.

And Talbots, for one, will permanently close its Winrock store as it relocates to Uptown.

“As I understand it, it’s a pretty intensive effort to get the plan retooled,” Miller said. “We’re hoping to move forward as soon as we can.”

ABQ Uptown, meanwhile, is moving forward. Its second phase of construction – 190 urban loft apartments – is slated to start early 2007. The development will eventually include entertainment venues and a hotel.

The mixture of offices, homes, entertainment and shops is why ABQ Uptown bills itself as a “live-work-play, unique urban community.”

It’s an approach to development that has caught the interest of John Benavidez, a lecturer in marketing at the University of New Mexico’s Anderson Schools of Management.

“This is the first one in the Albuquerque of these lifestyle centers,” he said. “I want to see what the new concept is all about.”

He said he’ll be on hand for today’s grand opening.

Why he plans on going can be explained by the same reason he gets a new cell phone every 18 months, the same reason marketers flood American culture with endlessly new and even needlessly improved products.

“There definitely is an obsession with having things that are new,” Benavidez said. “Something bigger and better comes out, we want that.”

New stores are no exception, particularly in Albuquerque “where the city has been growing and a lot of these retail concepts haven’t been here before,” he said.

“For those of us who have lived here our whole lives, it’s kind of exciting because the city is growing up.”

He wonders how long the adoration will last.

“We’ve seen this happen with other stuff in town,” he said. “Cottonwood Mall, when that opened, it was a complete zoo for about three weeks. The same thing happened with Krispy Kreme – the lines and the infamous landing of the police helicopter.”

In 2001, an Albuquerque police officer and a civilian pilot landed their police helicopter near a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop to pick up a box of doughnuts. Today, both of Albuquerque’s Krispy Kreme outlets stand closed and empty.

“Any time something new comes in, it’s kind of exciting for us here in Albuquerque because we have been without it for so long,” Benavidez said.

FACTBOX: Opening Today

The ABQ Uptown outdoor shopping center at Louisiana Boulevard and Indian School Road Northeast celebrates its grand opening today.

Stores and restaurants that will be open include:

White House/Black Market, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, Talbots, Coldwater Creek, Jos. A. Bank, Elephant Bar Restaurant, Soma by Chico’s, Loop, Chico’s, Starbucks, Cingular Wireless, J. Jill, Eddie Bauer, Borders, The Sharper Image, Ann Taylor Loft, Gymboree, Alltel Wireless, Sunglass Hut, Jared – The Galleria of Jewelry, and Apple.

Stores and restaurants to open later in November include:

BCBG, Marcello’s Chophouse, Bravo! Cucina Italiana, World of Knives and Prima Fine Jewelry.

Source: Hunt Development Group

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