While groceries remain an illusive commodity in Clarksburg, discount designer clothing is moving closer to reality.
Shoppers could be hitting outlet stores in Clarksburg as early as 2015, if one developer is able to meet projected timelines.
Streetscape Partners, together with Simon Property Group and New England Development, is under contract to buy 48 acres at the southwest corner of Interstate 270 and Md. 121 (Clarksburg Road) where it plans to construct the Clarksburg Premium Outlets at Cabin Branch.
Aiming to put shovels to dirt sometime in 2014, Ron Kaplan, co-managing principal of the now Bethesda-based Streetscape Partners said in a private interview with The Gazette on May 8 that the partnership hopes to open the outlet mall for business by the end of 2015.
Early sketch plans show the outlets in six buildings totaling 450,000 square feet. A network of bike and walking trails connect the retail to a residential area between which other buildings, potential restaurants or other uses, pepper the landscape.
Kaplan said the development would be mixed-used, incorporating retail, residential, other employment and public plazas.
Renderings of the potential look and feel of the outlets show updated facades and two-story structures resembling a small town, visually differentiated from Simon’s nearby outlet properties in Leesburg, Va., and Hagerstown.
Before anything can progress on the site, the developers need to seek a zoning change, said John Carter, area 3 chief with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Montgomery County Planning Department.
The approved development plan for Cabin Branch allows for less retail than the developer is proposing, Carter said.
A plan will go before the planning board on July 18 to allow for more retail. Montgomery County Council will have ultimate say on the change, Carter said.
Opening outlets on the site in 2015 is optimistic considering that if the change is approved, the developers still need to get approvals on preliminary and site plans, he said.
“That would be ambitious to be able to do that,” Carter said of Streetscape’s timeline.
Developers have frequently promised retail for Clarksburg but it is a promise still unfulfilled. Clarksburg Town Center remains vastly vacant and other parcels that could potentially be retail hubs sit mired in environmental controversy.
“We’re hearing lots of promises here, lots of promises, but what we’ve seen over the last 20 years in Clarksburg is nobody delivers on their promises,” Melane Kinney Hoffmann of Livable Clarksburg, a newly formed civic group, said recently.
Residents still have to drive out of town to buy groceries so destination retail doesn’t really fulfill a local need, but it is also not a terrible thing as it will bring jobs, she said Tuesday.
Kaplan said the project should bring more than 1,500 jobs to Clarksburg.
“Clarksburg residents have often been frustrated in the past,” Kaplan said. “Because people come and lots of promises and they’ve thought they were getting something that hasn’t yet really developed. ... So one of the things that attracted me personally is, this is an incredible opportunity.”
Neighboring land owners are looking to Cabin Branch and the Adventist site as a catalyst to drive retail growth in Clarksburg, he said.
Residents, however, will believe it when they see it.
“Who knows what it is going to take to make Town Center happen,” Hoffmann said.
Work has already begun on the 535-acre Cabin Branch site where Winchester Homes is slated to build 968 homes in three phases. The outlet mall would be part of Cabin Branch’s second phase, Kaplan said.
“Fortunately, the site is set up for what we are planning,” he said.
Streetscape, Simon and New England are under contract to buy the land from Adventist HealthCare, which decided to sell after the state denied it permission for a hospital in Clarksburg.
While Adventist sought state permission, it continued to progress through the county’s development process, obtaining water, sewer, environmental and traffic approvals, moving it through at least the first four years, Kaplan said.
Competition was high when Adventist put its land up for sale, indicating a strong market to build in Clarksburg.
“Plans are plans but at the end of the day the market tells you whether you’ll be successful, whether there’s demand,” he said. “Here the tenant interest exists to do this so it would be a shame if it didn’t actually happen.”
Retail demand is so high in Clarksburg that a second developer recently announced plans for an outlet mall less than a mile away from Cabin Branch.
In April, The Peterson Cos. said Tanger Factory Outlets would be coming to its 98-acre site on the northeast corner of I-270 and Md. 121.
While both developers see a future for outlet retail in Clarksburg, Kaplan said there is no battle raging to be the first up and running.
“It makes good headlines to talk about a war, but there is no war,” he said. “These are separate developments on different timelines. ... There doesn’t have to be a loser here.”
“Peterson is an excellent developer and I’m sure [it] will work through the process and come up with development plans that will be embraced by the community and are ultimately approvable,” Kaplan said.
Representatives of The Peterson Cos. could not be reached for comment.
There might not be a war, but Kaplan openly compared his proposed outlet brand to Peterson’s, saying Simon has higher sales per square foot than Tanger. Simon generated about $568 of sales per square foot as of December 2012 while Tanger generated $376, according to financial data from each company.
From Livable Clarksburg’s point of view, Adventist’s land is a much better location for outlets, not only because of the environment but also because of the traffic.
Hoffmann compared the situation to a horse race, with Streetscape out the gate and down the track while Peterson is still waiting to be approved to even enter the track.
Or as Kaplan put it, Peterson would have needed to start its process four years ago. Even if the two were on the same timeline, Kaplan said that a retailer looking at the area would need only 30 seconds to choose Cabin Branch.
“The market ultimately will determine and the tenants will determine, but the reality is the tenants aren’t going to be faced with that decision at the same time,” he said.
Today, Peterson’s plans are stalled by environmental considerations surrounding Ten Mile Creek, where planners are working to amend Clarksburg’s master plan to determine the impact development would have on water quality in the pristine creek.