Demolition crews seen at mall

Visit worries tenants as negotiations go on for Hunt Valley sale

Commercial real estate

February 03, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

The presence of demolition crews at Hunt Valley Mall ignited fears yesterday among dozens of merchants worried that they soon will be out of business.

Some business owners said they were told by mall managers that they could be evicted as soon as April 30 as part of a plan to demolish most of the mall and replace it with large individual retail stores. If that is true, more than 50 tenants would be left without a home.

"The cat is out of the bag," said Brad Seeley, owner of the Club House Deli and a tenant at the mall since it opened in 1981.

But Trammell Crow Co., the mall manager, insisted that the plans for the mall are not final. "As of this date, no decisions have been made," said Richard Kabat, senior vice president of northeast retail development for Trammell Crow.

Starwood Ceruzzi, a Connecticut-based developer of "big box" retail centers, confirmed Tuesday that it is negotiating to buy the mall from Equitable Life Assurance Society, which for years has struggled to attract tenants.

But the company has not confirmed plans to tear down the mall.

"At this point, Starwood Ceruzzi does not own the mall, so it would not be appropriate for us to comment on anything," said company spokesman Lee Silberstein.

Some merchants clung to the hope that the mall would be spared.

"We really hope it's not true," said Denise Huffer, manager of the Deb Shop.

But the presence of a demolition contractor yesterday further unnerved worried merchants.

The mall manager, who tried to settle their fears, had little success.

Several merchants said property manager Frederick C. Paine told them that demolition would start March 16 with the vacant stores and that the remaining businesses would have to clear out by April 30.

Theresa Rigley, owner of the Nutkracker Suite, said that mall managers who came around to her store yesterday told her that the mall was being sold and that she would have to vacate by April 30.

Rigley, who has operated the candy store since the mall opened, said news of the sale has left her and her 19 employees feeling uncertain about their future.

"It's quite a shock," Rigley said.

Sheila Etemadi, owner of Baskets and Roses, a flower shop that has been in the mall for two years, said Paine told her she would have to move by the end of April.

Paine's boss, Kabat, said merchants misunderstood what Paine told them. "He told them that if the sale closes, it would not be before March 16. And if the new owner asks them to leave, they would not have to leave before April 30," Kabat said.

While contractors were at the mall yesterday, Kabat said, "As far as I know, there is no firm contract with the demolition company."

Tenants who have long clung to promises by owner Equitable Life Assurance Society that the mall's revival was imminent said they were frustrated and disappointed by news of the pending sale and possible demolition.

Some angry merchants complained that they have not been told what is going to happen to the mall or whether they can expect to have jobs after this spring.

"We're hearing everything second hand. If there are any facts behind it, we don't know," said Nicole Barren, manager of Claire's Boutiques.

Sun staff writers Dan Thanh Dang, Joe Nawrozki, Joan Jacobson and Dennis O'Brien contributed to this article.

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