- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2000

Landover Mall is losing another major tenant, adding one more nail in the coffin of the dreary, 28-year-old shopping center in Prince George's County.

The struggling JC Penney Outlet Store will officially close its doors in January.

"The store had not done particularly well for us," said Tim Lyons, a JC Penney spokesman. "It really hadn't been for some time."

That's really no surprise.

The mall, located just off the Capital Beltway, is nearly deserted even during the busy holiday season.

Shoppers say the outdated mall, along with most of Prince George's County, lacks the quality retailers and merchandise that blanket neighboring areas like Montgomery County and Northern Virginia. Real estate officials say the county's high-crime perception and lack of sales deter many retailers from locating there, even though Prince George's is the richest county in the nation with a majority-black population.

Landover Mall is about 74 percent full, with second-rate retailers and only a handful of brand-name stores. Hecht's and Sears will soon be the only anchors left at the 1.4-million square-foot shopping mall.

And there may not be much hope left for Landover Mall as retailers will likely be attracted to the newer, more modern retail projects that are in the works elsewhere in the county.

For instance, the now-empty US Airways Arena will be transformed into an $85 million Main Street-style retail and entertainment complex by the Cordish Co., a Baltimore-based developer.

Merchants and residents blame much of Landover Mall's demise on its owner, Bethesda-based Lerner Corp. They claim the company has neglected the mall, failing to bring in new retailers to replace space that's been vacant for years.

"Lerner has done a disservice to Prince George's County and the residents of Prince George's County," said Arthur Turner, president of the Towns of Kettering Homeowners Association and an active member on several county retail committees.

On Nov. 24 the day after Thanksgiving, which usually is the start of the holiday shopping season protesters picketed outside the deteriorating mall, demanding the mall owners put more time and money into the mall's development.

Lerner officials won't comment on the mall's situation. Last month, they denied rumors that the two-level shopping center had been sold or is on the auction block.

"They are not making any quick decisions," said Steve Winter, a spokesman for the company. "They're considering their options."

Lerner has put much of its energy and money into other properties it owns like White Flint mall, which has Bloomingdale's and Dave and Buster's, and the new Dulles Town Center mall, with a handful of anchors like Lord & Taylor and Hecht's.

"They have shown us disrespect because we've seen what they've done to their other properties," Mr. Turner said. "We don't see the same investment or concern here."

In its heyday, Landover Mall, built in 1972, was the premier shopping center in the area with upscale retailers like Garfinckel's, Woodward & Lothrop and Raleighs. When those closed, the regional mall did very little to attract quality stores to replace them, say residents and community officials.

JC Penney opened a department store in July 1996 at the Woodward & Lothrop location but converted it into an outlet store two years later because of struggling sales.

The Garfinckel's space has remained vacant since the store closed in 1990.

A few years ago, community leaders suggested the complex be converted into a factory outlet center, with upscale retailers selling merchandise at discounted prices.

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