A $30 million renovation and expansion of Westview Mall, considered the key to the revitalization of Catonsville's Route 40 corridor, is being threatened by the breach of a lease agreement by Marshalls, one of the mall's designated anchor stores.
In a suit filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court Dec. 4, Westview Mall accused Marshalls of illegally terminating a 10-year lease signed in May. Marshalls, a Massachusetts-based retail chain, was scheduled to open at the mall in September.
The suit asks for at least $75 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.
On Nov. 14, a Marshalls lawyer sent a letter to Westview Mall Associates terminating the lease because of construction delays. Marshalls spokeswoman Karen Whiting said that according to the chain's real estate department, Marshalls will open in 1991, but later than planned.
The suit says other leases at the mall are in jeopardy because retailers were lured by the presence of Marshalls -- an important national off-price-clothing chain.
T.J. Maxx, which is also scheduled to open in Westview next fall, signed a lease "expressly conditioned on the opening for business by Marshalls."
"The loss of other tenants and the financing commitments as a result of Marshalls' refusal to comply with the terms of the lease would result in consequences which would be catastrophic" for Westview and its guarantors, the filing says.
John Powell, vice president of Balcor Development Co., the Chicago-based owner of Westview Mall, said Westview and Marshalls are having conversations with the hope of settling the dispute "amicably." Mr. Powell said T.J. Maxx had not been told of the problem. A spokesman at the company could not be reached yesterday.
According to the suit, Marshalls submitted an outline plan for its 27,000-square-foot store four months late, preventing Westview from obtaining the required permits for the proposed building by Nov. 1, as was specified in lease. But in the Nov. 14 letter, Marshalls lawyers said the retailer was terminating the lease because appropriate construction and renovation had not been started by Westview Mall Associates.
Marshalls has nine stores in Maryland, 386 stores nationwide and had sales of more than $1.7 billion in 1989.
Westview Mall began its transformation to a "value-oriented" mall in October. Built as an open-air strip center in 1958, Westview was once a thriving commercial center for Catonsville. It lost its prominence after the demise of its Hutzler's and Stewart's stores and competition from the more modern Security Square Mall.
County officials see the expansion and renovation of the mall as an important factor in the community. Value City and Caldor are the 576,000-square-foot mall's two current anchors.
"Westview Mall stabilizes the [Catonsville] residential community, as well as the commercial area. It's the key in the hole for the revitalization of the whole Route 40 corridor," said Ronald B. Hickernell, former 1st District councilman, who was influential in the new commercial development along Route 40.
Mr. Hickernell said Westview Associates' strategy of offering off-brand, moderately priced merchandise to its patrons -- largely middle-income workers -- has resulted in thriving business for Value City and helped to attract T.J. Maxx.
"Westview Mall is the place to be now," Mr. Hickernell said. "If Marshalls backs out, I think they will discover that they made the mistake of not being in the right place at the right time."