- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

Mervis Diamond Importers and a Rockville real estate developer dueled in Montgomery County Circuit Court last week over a Rockville lease gone sour.

Mervis Diamond and Ronald Cohen of Ronald Cohen Management signed a lease in mid-2004 for the diamond company to occupy 3,000 square feet at 1775 Rockville Pike.

Mervis Diamond was supposed to be able to start remodeling the building in February 2005, said Ronnie Mervis, vice president and co-founder of his namesake company and well-known in the D.C. area for his radio commercials. Then he found out there was a change in plans.

Mr. Mervis said Mr. Cohen told him he wanted to build condominiums on the site instead. Mervis Diamonds filed suit a month later, asking the court to enforce the lease and restore lost profits of about $1.5 million per year.

“We feel like the bride left at the altar here,” Mr. Mervis said. “He courted us, brought us to the space, made us the big promise and left us high and dry.”

Mr. Cohen did not return calls for comment last week.

“This site, it’s the perfect gem on Rockville Pike,” Mr. Mervis said. “It’s small, it is self-contained, it has great visibility. … Best of all, it is a building with natural light on four sides. With diamonds, nothing beats natural light.”

Mervis Diamond had a store in Rockville — a mile south of the contested site — for 16 years. When Mervis Diamond signed the lease for the now-contested site, it let the old lease expire. When the new store didn’t open, Mr. Mervis found himself without a store in Rockville.

“We couldn’t get into new space,” he said. “It was a big blow to us. We lost our presence in Maryland. We had a loyal following for 20 years and we’re not going to give that up.”

Mervis has since opened a store in Chevy Chase.

If Mervis Diamond wins the case, Mr. Mervis expects the Rockville store would open in early 2007.

“We don’t plan to lose,” he said.

The court has placed an injunction against the landowner, preventing him from doing anything with the land until the trial is over. The judge had not rendered a verdict as of Friday.

Convention center names CEO

• A D.C. hospitality industry veteran was named chief executive officer and general manager of the Washington Convention Center last week. Reba Pittman Walker has served as acting general manager of the center for the past six months.

Ms. Walker spent 12 years at the original convention center, leaving as director of operations, and is a former president of the Hotel Association of Washington DC. Her career includes stints as deputy chief of staff to the secretary of agriculture and acting assistant secretary for administration in the Agriculture Department during the Clinton administration. She also briefly served as D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ chief of staff.

• The Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp. and the Visitors and Conference Bureau began a campaign last week designed to draw businesses and tourists to the county. Television commercials began airing last week with the slogan, “It’s a great time — building a great county for great people.”

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Contact Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or [email protected] times.com.

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