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Nebraska Crossing Outlets made its debut Friday morning amid cheers, excited early arrivals and brisk sales.
It soon was parking gridlock. Disappointed shoppers took to the mall's Facebook page to complain about having to return home because they couldn't find parking spaces.
Some shoppers who couldn't find spaces parked along Highway 31, in a cornfield and on both sides of the access road – seeming to outstrip the efforts of the Frontline private security firm, mall staff and officers from the Nebraska State Patrol and Sarpy County Sheriff's Office to direct traffic.
“We're currently trying to stop cars from coming in so cars can get out,” mall property manager Kelly Calderone said while also trying to direct traffic. “The lot is at capacity. This is more than what we were expecting. We've got to get people out.”
Sheena and Rodney Steele of Lincoln were walking back to their car, which they had parked at the Flying J at 10:30 a.m. after circling the lot and not finding a spot.
No one was directing traffic when they arrived at 10:30, they said, although officers arrived afterward.
"I'm glad I didn't have my kids with me," Sheena said.
"Tomorrow I can only imagine what it'll be like," Rodney said.
They shopped at Converse, Osh Kosh and Kitchen Collection.
By midafternoon, the parking situation seemed to have improved, with spots coming open before being claimed by drivers circling the parking lot.
Lt. Randy Furby of the sheriff's office said the worst seemed to be from 10 a.m. to noon and had eased as early shoppers seemed to be leaving. He expected traffic to worsen again in late afternoon as people get off work.
He said five county units and three State Patrol cruisers are on the scene, and they're manually operating the traffic lights. They also were bringing in barricades and no-parking signs to prevent illegal parking. Some people are parking at a truck stop and walking over a bridge without sidewalks, which he said is unsafe.
“We want them in the parking lot,” Furby said. He suggested people keep calm, take their time and realize the sales still will be there later.
Earlier in the day, developers Rod Yates and Frank Krejci cut a ribbon to signal the mall is open for business.
Gretna Mayor Jim Timmerman, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and members of the Sarpy County and Omaha chambers of commerce praised the quick work of Kiewit and developers in completing the $112 million, 350,000-square-foot mall, the home of more than 70 stores and restaurants.
Brad Stauffer, president of the Gretna Chamber of Commerce, told a crowd of more than 100 that the shopping center “just screams class and value.”
Stothert, wearing flats, joked, “I'm wearing my shopping shoes today. ... Nebraska Crossing Outlets is a good deal for our entire metropolitan area.”
Visitors also were greeted by an announcement of yet another new outlet store: Abercrombie & Fitch, that will open next year near the Under Armour outlet store.
Would-be shoppers began filling parking spaces and streaming into the mall as early as 6:30 a.m. to shop at new-to-Nebraska brands, including Michael Kors and Kate Spade New York. By 10:15, shoppers were carrying bundles of bags labeled Columbia, Gymboree, Coach, J. Crew and Borsheims Boutique.
Emily Furley of Omaha arrived with the dawn, determined to start the line outside the Coach outlet store. By 9 a.m., about 100 trailed her awaiting the store's 10 a.m. opening. At midmorning, there still were lines at the Coach and Kate Spade stores because the stores were at capacity. At least 50 were in line at Coach.
Deanna Montang of Minneapolis, though, already had purchased a Wilsons Leather handbag — a Christmas gift for her daughter — by 10:30 a.m. She and her husband also already had visited the Tommy Bahama and Under Armour stores.
Nichole Eggers of Papillion took the day off from work to shop at Coach, Nike and Adidas with her sister Tara Fullner. “They should have done this years and years ago,” Eggers said, referring to the renovation that demolished the former troubled outlet mall built 20 years ago.
Yates and Krejci thanked everyone for their help in making the new outlet center a reality, and they told the crowd their focus turns Monday to their next project — redevelopment of Crossroads Mall in Omaha.
>> Stores opened Friday at 10 a.m. following an 8:30 a.m. ribbon cutting. The mall's hours generally are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
>> The new main entrance is at Nebraska Crossing Drive and Highways 6 and 31, accessed from Exit 432 on Interstate 80. Watch for extra sheriff's patrols and message boards. And, remember, the Huskers play in Lincoln at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, so expect extra traffic.
>> The shopping center has more than 1,600 parking spaces, but consider carpooling.
>> Some stores and restaurants won't be open yet: The Burger Star and Big Cheese restaurants open next month. The Pieocracy pizza restaurant is expected to open the first of the year, said Greg Cutchall, owner of Cutchall Management Co., which will operate the three eateries. BeautyFirst, Famous Footwear, Justice and Old Navy are expected to open in January.
>> Need to find a store? Look for the interactive, touch-screen kiosks. Use a QR code scanner on your mobile device to download information. Need a break? There are three public restrooms near Under Armour, Michael Kors and Big Cheese, and some stores and restaurants also have accessible restrooms. Need cash? There will be two Great Western ATMs. One is right outside of Kay Jewelers, the other in Parking Lot K.