The Tollgate Mall on U.S. 1 in Bel Air is in receivership, but the company named as receiver for the property said last week that business at the mall won't be interrupted.
The mall owner is Polimeni Enterprises of Hauppoauge, N.Y. Receivership records were not on file instate or county court last week, so it could not be determined how much Polimeni owes creditors. The company named as receiver, Stanford Realty Corp. in Roseland, N.J., declined comment on finances.
Bel Air's town planner blamed the financial difficulty on poor management.
"The anchor stores were bringing in the bulk of the traffic, but they were not capturing the dollars because of how poorly the mall is run and its design," said Carol Deibel, town planner.
"The market is there. We're constantly being told we need other kinds of stores. It's just been poor management."
She and Tollgate Mall shop owners said they are awaiting the mall owner's response this weekto court documents that placed the mall in receivership.
Receivership is a form of bankruptcy in which a business is operated during its reorganization by a court-appointed trustee called a receiver. Thereceiver's job is to settle the financial difficulties of the company while it is under protection from creditors.
Robert McCory, a spokesman for Stanford Realty Corp. in Roseland, N.J., said Monday thatStanford Realty has been named receiver for the 50-store mall.
"The mortgage holder requested that the court appoint us receiver of rents and manager of the property," McCory said.
"The property ownerhas many options; we expect to see some action taken within the next30 days."
One reason for the mall's troubles, said Joan Kendrick,office manager at the Tollgate Mall office, is that in addition to the mall's two anchor stores -- Giant Food Inc. and K-mart -- 20 storespaces are now leased -- meaning the 50-store mall is more than halfempty.
"We're in limbo, but we should know something by March 27," Kendrick said. "The mall owners must respond by that date. The big mystery is why haven't the owners in New York responded yet."
Kendrick said owners of stores in the mall were notified by mail about the receivership and instructed where to send rent checks.
Bel Air'splanning director, Carol Deibel, said, "We were upset about the impact the neglect was having on the town. The tenants have had trouble with their leases, the lot has been falling apart. We couldn't get a response. It's an out-of-state property, and they don't care."
She said the mall did well under the auspices of its builder, Alvin Lapides, but business dropped off after Polimeni Enterprises took over.
Deibel said a traffic study conducted last fall showed the number ofcars turning from U.S. 1 into the Tollgate Mall entrance was noticeably higher than the number of cars turning into the Harford Mall entrance.
Steve Gable, manager of Professional Vision Center, one of Tollgate Mall's oldest tenants, said, "We were one of the first tenants; we've been here since May 1980. When the mall started it was half full. Since then it's been one thing after another, and we've watchedthe stores around us drop like flies."
Gable said the mall's poordesign and choice of anchor stores have contributed to the decline in business that has driven many stores out of business.
"That first year, a lot of businesses couldn't survive the first winter. We became known as the 'Wind Tunnel Mall' because the wind whipped through here so fast," said Gable.
An imposing problem is that the mall was built with the front facing away from U.S. 1, Gable said. When an entrance from Route 24, which runs northeast of the mall, was denied,the rear of the mall located along U.S. 1 became the front, he said.
The choice of anchor stores hasn't helped shops in the middle of the mall, either, Gable said.
"Giant's a great draw," he said. "But Giant isn't good for the middle of the mall. If you go to a grocerystore, what do you do after that? You take your groceries home. There's nothing to draw people through the middle of the
He said Professional Vision Center has retained its location in the mall because "we always thought the mall had potential."
"We realizedearly on that it was not going well," Gable said. "So we 'forgot' wewere part of the mall and started advertising on our own and aggressively went out for patients. We built up a good business despite the mall."
He said the mall could attract new businesses by offering such financial incentives as a smaller square footage fee or a few months' free rent.
"But off the cuff? I was wondering if the Air Force had one of the 500-pound bombs left," Gable said. "Then we could just forget the whole thing."