Laurel Mall now under new ownership

California-based Somera Capital Management LLC closes on $31-million purchase

Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006

A Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company closed on its $31-million purchase of the 26-year-old Laurel Mall Friday although its renovation plans have yet to be fully developed.

Preliminary plans do include tearing down and replacement of the parking structure, which has suffered two concrete collapses in the past year, on June 30 and Dec. 27.

Although city officials had hoped to see Somera Capital Management LLC tear down and redevelop it as a mixed-use property, the company plans to renovate the mall as it stands to give it a new appearance.

Founded in 1994, Somera has experience in acquiring and redeveloping malls. Across the country, the company has invested in 47 properties with a total original value of over $1 billion.

Its retail investments include Metrocenter Mall in Phoenix, Ariz., acquired in January 2005 and West Oaks Mall in Houston, Texas, acquired in 2003, both with plans to renovate and improve the properties as shopping destinations.

A Prince George’s County judge placed Laurel Mall in receivership in February 2005 after its previous owner, Laurel Centre Associates, defaulted on its debt payment. The appointed receiver, Gregory Maloney, CEO of the Atlanta-based real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle Americas Inc., made an offer of sale to about 50 potential buyers.

The mall had suffered from low business and losing several of its tenants ever since its former anchor store, J.C. Penney, left in 2003.

‘‘It is good news for mall tenants and people living locally,” said tenant Mann Singh, who owns the Gifts Bazaar, adding that the renovation could bring a different mix of stores. ‘‘This area and these people deserve a good mall... we’re very excited.”

Shopper Herman Koranek of Savage said people are familiar with the mall’s tenants and go there because they want to visit certain stores.

Koranek was at the mall in December to get a pair of shoes mended at Brite Shoe Repair, because it was one of the few places in the area he could do so, he said.

He was pleased to see changes coming, he added, because the mall’s instability had been ‘‘disruptive to the local economy.” ‘‘I’m glad to see... it’s coming back to life, something’s happening,” he said. ‘‘I hope to have it stay open.”

Charlene Taylor of Laurel said she didn’t really have a problem with the mall as it was, but ‘‘I like the fact that they’re renovating. Maybe more people will come,” she added.