Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
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NEW ORLEANS - Construction is underway on the country's first downtown outlet mall, and locals and tourists alike are buzzing about the stores slated to come in.

'Me personally I think it will be something good for the city, more locals will be able to go in there and shop, we don't have to give Jefferson Parish all our money any more,' said New Orleanian Jilondra Johnson, referring to national retail stores in surrounding parishes.

'You have two worlds. You have the French Quarter and all that draws you there, but then you have this, and this is one stop shopping with lots and lots of medium to high-end stores for us. I would definitely come here,' said Jeanette Iwado, a tourist from Maui.

The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk will open with nearly 70 stores by next summer, including Louisiana's first Neiman Marcus store, plus Gap, Guess, Kenneth Cole and Coach outlet stores.

Business leaders say it shows a new trend in New Orleans.

'There's probably never been this much retail going on in the city at one time,' said Brenda Canada, director of retail attraction and development for the New Orleans Business Alliance.

'A lot of the retailers two and a half years ago were skeptics. They really weren't thinking of New Orleans, to be quite frank,' said Mark Bulmash, senior vice president of development for Howard Hughes Corporation, the project's developer. 'Two and a half years later, they've gotten it. Now their attitude is, 'Why not New Orleans?''

Developers say the city's plans to improve the riverfront downtown has played a major role in their decision to transform the Riverwalk Marketplace into a high-end outlet center.

'The city is reinventing itself, and we're excited to be a part of it,' said Bulmash.

In some respects, the $70 million renovation is an early piece to the puzzle. The area will also see the redevelopment of the shuttered World Trade Center, the revitalization of Spanish Plaza and improvements to the park adjacent to the Audubon Aquarium.

And business leaders hope the rebirth will continue. They believe this outlet mall will prompt even more national retailers to develop downtown.

'I think it's really catalytic that so many local retailers, or national retailers, are buying into what's happening in New Orleans,' said Canada. 'And it'll just open the way for a lot more growth here.'

'We've been working very hard for the last several years to bring national retailers to downtown in particular,' said Anthony Carter, director of finance and administration for the Downtown Development District.

The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk marks the building's first major redevelopment since it opened in 1986.

Developers believe sales will triple when the former mall becomes an outlet center.

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