The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk Mall in New Orleans, LA: The Rise, Fall, and Resilience

Outlet Collection at Riverwalk Mall: Birth and Early Years

Imagine walking along the Mississippi River in the 1980s, where the Poydras Street Wharf and Julia Street Wharf once stood. These piers were demolished to make way for the 1984 World’s Fair, which brought international attention to New Orleans.

But what would become of this prime real estate after the fair? Enter The Rouse Company, a development firm with a vision to transform the area into a shopping haven. On August 28, 1986, that vision came to life with the opening of the Riverwalk Marketplace (now Outlet Collection at Riverwalk), an upscale mall designed to attract tourists and locals.

The mall was strategically located in the Central Business District, stretching from the base of Canal Street upriver to the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. It was an ambitious project to capitalize on the city’s burgeoning tourism industry. The mall offered a mix of high-end retail stores and dining options, setting the stage for what many hoped would be a long-lasting commercial success.

However, the Riverwalk Marketplace was not just another mall but a symbol of New Orleans’ post-industrial transformation. The city was moving away from its maritime roots and embracing a future driven by tourism and service industries. The mall’s opening was met with fanfare, and for a while, it seemed like the Riverwalk would become a staple in the city’s landscape.

The MV Bright Field Incident

December 14, 1996, started as an ordinary day at the Riverwalk Marketplace. Shoppers were busy checking off their holiday lists, and the atmosphere was festive. But in the afternoon, disaster struck. The MV Bright Field, a massive freightliner, lost control and slammed into the mall. The collision caused significant structural damage, affecting fifteen shops and injuring approximately 66 people.

The incident was shocking but could have been far worse. No lives were lost thanks to quick actions by the ship’s crew and emergency responders. The damage was estimated at $15 million, a substantial financial blow for the mall and its tenants. A plaque now marks where the MV Bright Field collided with the Riverwalk, a sad reminder of that fateful day.

Despite the setback, the Riverwalk showed remarkable resilience. Repairs were made, shops reopened, and the mall continued to operate. The incident became a part of the Riverwalk’s complex history, a testament to the mall’s ability to bounce back from adversity.

The Impact of Hurricane Katrina

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, leaving a trail of destruction. The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk was not spared; it suffered extensive wind and looting damage, forcing it to close its doors for several months.

The mall reopened in early December of that year, albeit with few shops. The hope was that the holiday shopping season would jump-start the area’s economic recovery.

The years following Katrina were challenging. Many businesses struggled to reopen, and some never did. Yet, the Riverwalk clawed its way back to near 100% occupancy over the next several years. It symbolized New Orleans’ resilience, mirroring its broader efforts to recover and rebuild.

The $82 Million renovation

Fast forward to 2014, and the Riverwalk was ready for a makeover. An $82 million renovation was undertaken, transforming the mall into The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk.

This wasn’t just a cosmetic upgrade; the mall pivoted its business model to become an outlet center. New tenants like Coach and Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio were introduced to attract different kinds of shoppers.

The renovation was a gamble, but it paid off. The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk became a shopping destination for tourists and locals looking for high-quality goods at discounted prices. The mall’s transformation was a sign of changing consumer preferences and the evolving retail landscape.

Ownership Changes and Current Status

Outlet Collection at Riverwalk was hit hard by COVID-19, given its reliance on tourists from nearby hotels and cruise ships. Also, in 2020, the chain’s Neiman Marcus Last Call store was closed as part of a nationwide store closure program.

In 2022, another significant change occurred. Houston-based investment firm RockStep Capital acquired the mall for $34 million. The new ownership came with plans for immediate upgrades and a focus on filling vacant spaces. As of August 2023, the mall houses 68 stores and services, covering a retail floor area of 250,000 square feet.

RockStep Capital is optimistic, with plans to achieve 100% leasing with high-end national brands before 2025. The mall’s future may be uncertain, but its ability to adapt and evolve gives hope for what lies ahead.

Current Tenants at The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk: A Diverse Retail Landscape

Anchors

Anchoring the retail space at The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk are some big names that draw in tourists and locals. Nordstrom Rack leads offering discounted designer brands in an ample, well-organized space.

Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger also may serve as anchors, providing a range of high-end apparel that appeals to a broad audience. These stores attract foot traffic and set the tone for the shopping experience at the mall.

Famous Stores

Several stores at The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk stand out regarding brand recognition. Coach and Kate Spade offer luxury handbags and accessories, while Calvin Klein and Guess provide fashionable apparel options. Levi’s and Gap offer timeless pieces for those looking for more casual wear.

Beauty and health are also well-represented, with stores like The Fragrance Outlet and The Cosmetics Company Store offering various products. These famous stores add a touch of glamour and variety, making the mall a go-to destination for quality shopping.

Dining Options

No shopping experience is complete without a break for delicious food, and the Riverwalk offers diverse dining options. The food court features a mix of cuisines, from the Asian flavors at Pei Wei Asian Express to the classic American fare at Raising Cane’s.

Häagen-Dazs and Great American Cookies offer delightful treats for those with a sweet tooth. Café Du Monde, a New Orleans staple, is also present, allowing shoppers to enjoy coffee with their famous beignets. These dining options provide sustenance and a taste of the local culture.

Lundi Gras and Cultural Events

If there’s one event that captures the essence of New Orleans’ vibrant culture, it’s the annual Lundi Gras celebration at the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk. Scheduled for Monday, February 12, 2024, the 38th Annual Riverwalk Lundi Gras promises to be an unforgettable kickoff to the Mardi Gras festivities. Hosted on Spanish Plaza, this event is more than just a prelude to Fat Tuesday; it’s a celebration that embodies the heart and soul of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Imagine the atmosphere: Spanish Plaza transformed into a bustling activity hub filled with award-winning live music sounds. From jazz to zydeco, the musical lineup is as diverse as the city. Food vendors set up shop, offering an array of New Orleans favorites, from gumbo to beignets.

But the event’s highlight is the grand arrival of Rex and Zulu, two of the most iconic Mardi Gras krewes. Their arrival is a spectacle, often accompanied by a dazzling fireworks display along the Mississippi River.

If you want to experience authentic New Orleans, away from the tourist traps and commercialized events, Riverwalk’s Lundi Gras is the place to be.

This annual event does more than entertain; it serves a dual purpose. First, it brings in foot traffic, benefiting the various retailers within the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk. Second, it fortifies the mall’s relationship with the local community, reinforcing its role as more than just a shopping destination. The Riverwalk cements its place in the rich New Orleans tapestry by hosting culturally significant events.

Conclusion

The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk’s story is far from over. It remains a significant part of New Orleans’ landscape, a testament to its resilience and adaptability. As the mall looks to the future, one thing is clear: its ability to evolve will determine its place in the ever-changing tapestry of New Orleans.

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