New Orleans tourism industry cheers the return of the Riverwalk mall

May 21 2014 | Latest News
By Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune

When an $82 million reimagining of New Orleans' riverfront shopping mall opens Thursday as The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, members of the city's tourism industry expect to see benefits.

The nearby Loews New Orleans Hotel is seizing on it by selling a "Shop 'til you drop at Riverwalk" package giving people who book rooms gift cards to mall stores, coupon books and complimentary breakfasts, cocktails and parking at the hotel. The president of the Audubon Nature Institute, which runs the nearby Aquarium of the Americas, Entergy IMAX Theatre and Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, said he expects the mall to send more people to the group's doors.

The added shopping attraction particularly will increase the city's appeal for travelers who live within driving distance, said Mark Romig, president of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation. He said it could help the city's overall visitation initially by giving people something new to try.

"This will definitely aid that drive market opportunity," Romig said.

Romig said the redevelopment will bring the mall "back to its glory days," when it thrived before Hurricane Katrina.

"New Orleans is considered a retail destination, a shopping destination," Romig said, citing the burgeoning of Magazine Street, the success of Saks Fifth Avenue at the Canal Place shopping center and arrival there of a Tiffany & Co. store.

The cruise industry could use the new mall to sell New Orleans as an embarkation point, Romig said.

David Bilbe, general manager of the Loews and current president of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association, said he expects the mall, with its unique status as an outlet center located in an urban setting, to attract people to the city in its own right, not just by adding to a mix of downtown amenities.

"We think people will come to the city to shop at the outlet mall," Bilbe said. "We all think it's great for downtown and great for the convention district."

"There's always opportunities, whenever any new business moves into a market, to capture business from those organizations," Bilbe said. "The great thing about New Orleans is that there are so many demand generators that draw visitors to the market."

Ron Forman, president of the Audubon Institute, issued a statement concurring that the redevelopment adds to the appeal of downtown and the growth of retail in the city.

"We expect Audubon's downtown attractions, the Aquarium, Entergy IMAX Theatre, and Butterfly Garden and Insectarium to benefit from increased foot traffic along the downtown riverfront and we expect many of the new visitors to stop by to visit our penguins or explore our butterfly garden following their shopping trips," Forman said.