The crowds taxed area roads, backed up traffic toward Atlanta and exceeded expectations of mall developers and store operators.
Traffic around The Outlet Shoppes clogged up Interstate 575 through northeast Cobb County into the afternoon Thursday.
Gina Slechta, vice president of marketing for the mall’s developers, said the turnout for the grand opening of the mall, along with the traffic, was more than she expected.
“People from all over the world were at the opening, including people visiting Atlanta right now for the Microsoft convention,” Sletcha said Thursday evening.
By noon, the 1,781-car-capacity parking lot was already at capacity, following the official ribbon-cutting and opening event at 10 a.m.
Lindsey Burruss, spokesperson with Cobb Travel & Tourism, said the new mall will provide the region’s tourism industry with a timely jolt, hitting in the middle of summer just before school starts again.
“I think it’s an exciting thing that’s opening up and gives our visitors something else to do,” she said. “It’s another option … We’ve heard a lot of good things about it.”
As far as how the outlet could affect retail businesses in Cobb, Burruss said she hasn’t heard any concerns.
“I know in just looking at the outlet mall that there are a lot of different shops that we don’t have in Cobb, so people will still come here for what they need,” she said. “I think it will be an enhancement to the business here in Cobb.”
The mall opening included performances by the Woodstock High School marching band and other entertainers, but despite the hoopla and throughout the speeches shoppers continued to stream into stores in search of bargains.
President and CEO Gary Skoien of Michigan-based Horizon Group Properties, which developed the mall along with CBL & Associates Properties, spoke to a crowd of 500 or more people attending the ribbon-cutting, saying he was proud of the new mall and hoped the community would be proud, too.
“There’s a lot of people involved in a project like this, this is an $85 million project,” Skoien said before the ribbon was cut. “It involves work by government officials, private contractors, retailers, bankers, you name it, lawyers, unfortunately, and a lot of other folks that are involved.”
The 370,000-square-foot shopping center has fountains, covered walkways, landscaped islands and about 90 stores. There is also space for an additional 30,000 square feet of expansion.
The developers predict an annual $130 million in sales that would generate $3 million in sales tax revenues.
“I’ve lived in Cherokee County all of my life, and over the past 40 years there’s been times where I can remember when we had to drive outside of the county to either shop, go to the doctor or dine,” said Randy Gravely, chairman of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. “Ladies and gentlemen, those days are in the rear-view mirror.”
Gravely said the outlet mall would be marketed internationally, and the visitors would be spending money that would help the city, the government, the economy, the school system and the county.
Cherokee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Buzz Ahrens said the project was a “terrific example of teamwork.”
“It’s all kind of a community event,” Ahrens said. “(Wednesday night) was an unbelievable event.”
Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques said Thursday afternoon that at least 6,000 people bought tickets to the Wednesday night VIP preview.
“I firmly believe this is the biggest thing to hit Woodstock since the railroad, and that says a lot,” Henriques said.