Sale of mall under way

`Big box' developer negotiating to buy Hunt Valley center

Commercial real estate

February 02, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

The owner of the Hunt Valley Mall is negotiating to sell the beleaguered shopping center to a Connecticut-based developer of retail power centers.

Starwood Ceruzzi LLC, which works with "big box" chains such as Home Depot, Target, Stop & Shop, Barnes & Noble and Old Navy, confirmed yesterday that it is seeking to buy the mall, which for years has languished half-empty.

But company spokesman Christopher Johnson would not divulge what Starwood plans to do with the property.

One option under consideration, sources said, is to raze sections of the mall and replace them with large, individual retailers.

Tenants who have long clung to promises by the mall's current owner, Equitable Life Assurance Society, that the shopping center's revival was imminent, were disappointed by news of the pending sale.

"The merchants are feeling very wary of exactly what type of retail situation it would be," said Brad Seeley, owner of Club House Deli, and one of the few remaining original tenants in the 19-year-old mall.

Seeley said tenants have not been told what will happen to them. Most are operating on short-term leases and until recently had been expecting the long-promised revitalization of the mall's interior.

"I am bitterly disappointed," Seeley said.

Hunt Valley Mall has struggled for years to attract tenants. The mall opened in 1981 and had some success, but lost customers to Owings Mills Mall, which opened in 1986, and Towson Town Center, which opened in 1991.

Equitable hired the Faison Group of Charlotte, N.C., to redevelop and manage the mall in 1996, and Faison set about remaking the mall's image, putting an emphasis on value-oriented shopping. Trammell Crow continued with those plans after it acquired Faison in 1998.

Several times, the mall appeared poised for a comeback. In 1997, light rail was extended to the mall and credit-card giant MBNA located its regional headquarters across Shawan Road.

A 12-screen theater, new restaurants and new stores, including Wal-Mart and Burlington Coat Factory, were built adjacent to the mall.

But business in the mall failed to rebound.

"If you can't make it with Wal-Mart, Dick's [Clothing & Sporting Goods] and Burlington, who can you bring in to do that?" said Mark Millman, head of the Millman Search Group, a retail consultant.

Equitable put the mall up for sale several months ago.

The decision coincided with Starwood Ceruzzi's expansion in the Mid-Atlantic area after it opened a Bethesda office in March.

Starwood Ceruzzi is an affiliate of Starwood Capital Group, owners of Westin Hotels and ITT Sheraton Corp. With more than 5 million square feet of space in its portfolio, Starwood Ceruzzi LLC is one of the leading developers of "big box" retail power centers in the United States, according to company information.

Baltimore County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, an Owings Mills and North County Republican who represents the Hunt Valley area, said he met with Starwood Ceruzzi representatives a few weeks ago.

The company did not request any zoning considerations, he said.

Negotiations on the sale are expected to continue for a few more weeks, said Richard B. Kabat, senior vice president of northeast retail development for mall manager Trammell Crow.

Tom Maddux, a principal with KLNB, said the mall still has a promising future, if purchased "at the right price."

Sun staff writer Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this article.

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