- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Laurel Mall is slated for a makeover and a name change next year that its new owners hope will turn around the shopping center, which has been losing customers and tenants for years.

Somera Capital Management LLC, the Santa Barbara, Calif., company that bought the mall last year, yesterday announced plans to tear down the parking garage along Route 1 in Laurel and rebuild the former J.C. Penney site for a new anchor tenant and movie theaters.

The outside walls of the mall will be punched out, opening outdoor space for restaurants and other retailers and creating a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere found in other area shopping centers such as Pentagon City and Bethesda Row.

“We’re creating an environment where the local community wants to shop,” said Charlie Christensen, vice president of asset management at Somera.

Residents told Somera they wanted the mall to be safe and to have major retailers, restaurants and entertainment options, Mr. Christensen said.

Laurel Mall had success when it opened in 1979. But anchor tenant Montgomery Ward went bankrupt in 2001 and closed its store in the mall. A year later, anchor J.C. Penney packed up and left.

Crime problems left shoppers feeling unsafe, so they left in favor of the Mall in Columbia or Arundel Mills Mall.

“Things changed and the city of Laurel was no longer proud of Laurel Mall,” said Stephen Kriegel, senior director of development at General Growth Properties Inc., the company that manages the mall.

Somera bought the mall a year ago after Laurel Centre Associates LLC defaulted on its debt in 2005.

Today, the mall has only a few nationally known retailers, including Bath & Body Works, Kay Jewelers and anchors Macy’s and Burlington Coat Factory.

Somera declined to discuss any new retailers coming to Laurel Mall until leases were signed, but hopes to bring in national bookstores, clothing stores and restaurants, according to Thomas P. Falatko, senior vice president at Somera.

The mall will also be upgraded with a new food court, plazas, floors, seating and decor.

Construction is scheduled to start at the end of this year and be completed in 2008.

Somera declined to talk about how much it is spending.

The company plans to announce new retailers as leases are signed and choose a new name soon.

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