- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

Laurel Mall could be ready for a renaissance.

Somera Capital Management, a Santa Barbara, Calif., real estate investment company, plans to complete its purchase of the mall next month. Laurel Mall has lost several tenants since J.C. Penney Co. Inc., one of its anchor stores, left in 2003.

A Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge approved the $31 million sale last month to Somera Capital.

“We see a tremendous opportunity to provide a repositioned development asset to the community,” said Somera Capital President David Brown. “There are very exciting things going on in the Laurel area. Prince George’s County is one of the demographically most interesting areas in the country.”

Somera plans to remove a parking garage that blocks the view of the mall. The garage lost several chunks of concrete last month.

“We’d love to see a plan developed to, perhaps, create a more inviting entrance,” Mr. Brown said.

Somera also is looking to add movie theaters, upscale restaurants and high-end retailers to the mall.

Jones Lang LaSalle Americas Inc. obtained the property after the mall’s owner, Laurel Centre Associates, defaulted on its debt early last year. Jones Lang LaSalle put the property up for sale.

City officials say the purchase is a good move.

“Somera has a very good reputation for putting millions of dollars into improving the shopping centers and malls that they purchase,” said Frederick Smalls, a Laurel City Council member.

Somera has turned around malls in Houston, Santa Barbara and Maui, Hawaii. Somera owns shopping centers in Maine, Georgia and Washington state.

“I don’t think the former mall owners had the capital to make such a large investment to improve the mall to attract new stores,” Mr. Smalls said.

He said Somera’s plans mirror what the City Council thinks is necessary.

“Residents have a very keen interest in what happens to the mall,” he said.

Somera is working with city officials on developments and has researched tenants it hopes to bring to the mall, Mr. Brown said, without disclosing which retailers the company hopes to bring.

Laurel Mall, at 656,000 square feet, is small compared with regional shopping centers Arundel Mills and the Mall in Columbia, both of which have more than 1 million square feet of retail space.

“This is a property that we hope can bring back people exiting the community to go up to Baltimore or Columbia [to shop],” Mr. Brown said.

“Laurel Mall has loyal patrons in the immediate area that would shop there a lot more if there were the retail offerings that would bring high-end stores,” Mr. Smalls said.

In other news …

• The former Holiday Inn in Silver Spring has been converted to a Crowne Plaza brand hotel after a $6 million makeover. Lodgian Inc., an Atlanta hotel operator, owns the 231-room hotel.

• W.C. & A.N. Miller Cos. announced that Haymount, a 1,800-acre environmentally friendly community near Fredericksburg, Va., will include 4,000 homes and 250,000 square feet of retail space. Plans for the neotraditional town began in 1989; completion is expected by 2013.

• Retail & Hospitality runs on Mondays. Contact Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.

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