Bankruptcy judge OKs Tollgate Mall conversion Roof removal, another theater planned

April 11, 1993|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

A plan to save the struggling Tollgate Mall by converting it into a strip shopping center has received a federal bankruptcy judge's approval.

Judge Robert J. Hall issued his decision Tuesday in Westbury, N.Y., immediately after closing arguments from attorneys representing the mall's owner and State Farm Life Insurance Co., its mortgage holder.

"We've always felt the location [of the mall] was excellent," said Vincent Polimeni, who heads a limited partnership that owns the mall, Bel Air Square of Hauppauge, N.Y.

"It was just a matter of doing something that would make it work."

The partnership had filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in April 1991.

At the time, the partnership owed more than $8.8 million in principal and interest on its mall mortgage of $9.3 million.

Mr. Polimeni said he would meet Tuesday in Bel Air with architects, contractors, prospective tenants and town planners to begin working out specifics of the plan to convert the 240,000-square-foot mall to its original open-air style.

He said he has yet to come up with a cost for the project, but that he and several investors would finance it.

A source close to the case said State Farm opposed the plan, preferring to keep the 50-store mall enclosed.

During the 20 months in Chapter 11, the mall has paid $1.5 million in interest to the mortgage holder, Mr. Polimeni said.

The interior of the mall, anchored by Kmart and a Giant Food store, has been closed to the public for nearly a month since the last tenants left.

The lower level at the back of the mall, occupied by the Tollgate 7 Movie Theaters and Carvel Ice Cream, will remain intact, as will Kmart and Giant.

Mark Mueller, leasing agent for the mall, said he already has letters of intent from enough prospective tenants to occupy all the available 60,000 square feet of space. He said two national chains are requesting between 20,000 to 30,000 square feet each and that the mall would lease to one of them.

"It's extremely exciting to be able to move forward with this project," Mr. Mueller said.

"The mall's ownership has been under attack from various members of the community for allowing the mall to deteriorate in both appearance and lack of tenants."

He also said the planned addition of a theater to the Tollgate 7 theater at the mall bodes well for its future. Greater Baltimore Cinema plans to expand the Tollgate movies with a 340-seat theater, equipped with a four-track stereo system and a 12- by-28-foot screen.

The theater could open by midsummer.

Soon after buying the 240,000-square-foot mall in 1985 from a group of Baltimore businessmen, Mr. Polimeni put a roof over the promenade between the anchor stores.

The move ran counter to conventional wisdom in the retail industry that suggests a food store should never serve as an anchor for an enclosed mall.

Mr. Polimeni's plan would not only remove the roof but also reconfigure the storefronts to make them visible from the parking lot off U.S. 1 (Baltimore Pike) and from Tollgate Road.

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