The walls of White Flint Mall could be bulldozed soon.
Robert Brewer, a land use attorney representing White Flint Mall’s owners, said Thursday the owners expect to receive demolition permits to take down the mall’s exterior in the next week or two. The owners plan to begin the demolition as soon as they receive the permits, according to Brewer.
The mall, which owners Lerner Enterprises and The Tower Cos. plan to redevelop into a mixed-use town center, has sat nearly vacant for almost a year as the owners face off against remaining tenant Lord & Taylor in federal court. The mall's doors officially closed to the public in January, although the Lord & Taylor store remains open. Parts of the interior of the mall have already been demolished and a chain-link fence currently surrounds the building's exterior. The fence ends at the walls of the Lord & Taylor store.
Lord & Taylor sued the mall’s owners in 2013 over an easement agreement that stated the mall’s owners would maintain the mall as a “first-class, high-fashion retail shopping center” until at least 2042. On March 4, the federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected Lord & Taylor’s request to halt demolition of the mall, which the mall’s owners believe should allow redevelopment to move forward.
Shortly before that ruling, the mall’s owners filed for a number of demolition permits from Montgomery County’s Department of Permitting Services to demolish the shopping center’s exterior. Lord & Taylor has fought the issuance of those permits by sending questions to the county agency about how its store—which shares a wall, parking lots and a vehicle entrance with the mall—would be affected by demolition.
Scott Morrison, a partner at the Katten Muchin Rosenman law firm in Washington, D.C., who is representing the mall’s owners in the federal case, said Lord & Taylor is disregarding the court’s decision by trying to block or delay the demolition permits.
“They’re fighting in effect a guerilla war at the agency level, having lost in the Fourth Circuit,” Morrison said Wednesday.
Lord & Taylor however says it’s primary concern is over how the shared wall will be handled during the demolition process.
“With respect to the permitting process, White Flint wants to tear down the Mall and leave a gaping hole in Lord & Taylor’s building and then incredulously say Lord & Taylor has no right to complain about it,” Michelle Gambino, a shareholder with Greenberg Traurig LLP, which represents Lord & Taylor, wrote in an email.
Gambino wrote that Lord & Taylor is asking the county to ensure the store’s building will be structurally sound and that there’s no safety risk to the store’s employees or customers during the demolition process.
Brewer said the two sides were negotiating a solution to the shared wall issue and that plans are expected to be submitted to the permitting services department soon. The demolition is expected to take about fix to six months once it begins, according to the mall’s attorneys.
As for the ongoing litigation, Lord & Taylor is still pursuing one count in its lawsuit against the mall’s owners—for monetary damages related to the violation of the easement agreement.
Morrison said the mall owners plan to prove “once and for all” that Lord & Taylor will benefit greatly from the redevelopment of the mall site.
“There’s evidence in the court filings where Lord & Taylor has admitted that if the redevelopment proceeds the gross sales for that store in White Flint will more than double,” Morrison said.
He added that the mall’s owners are not interested in any kind of settlement with the retailer.
“Lord & Taylor believes that if they can drag out the litigation and the redevelopment long enough that eventually White Flint will capitulate to their demands and go away, that will not happen,” Morrison said.
Gambino said Lord & Taylor is currently in the dark about how the redevelopment will affect its store.
“It is unfortunate that White Flint would rather talk to the press than sit down and inform Lord & Taylor of what it is building, when it will build it, and how it will minimize the damage it has and will cause to Lord & Taylor’s business,” Gambino wrote in an email. “While Lord & Taylor is not against change, it is against having its rights bulldozed over. White Flint cannot run away from its obligations or unilaterally violate them and then feign surprise when Lord & Taylor seeks to hold it accountable for the substantial damages it has caused to a store that has been in existence for over 35 years in Montgomery County.”
The mall’s owners have asked for a trial in the case in federal district court and Morrison says a hearing to set a trial date is scheduled for May 27. That trial could take place this fall, according to Morrison.
Brewer said the mall could submit its first-phase site plan—detailing the mall’s redevelopment—to the county’s planning department a few months after the case is resolved.
The ongoing lawsuit has impacted the mall owners’ efforts to gain financing for the redevelopment project, Morrison said. The owners have been unable to attract anchor tenants to the site, which has led to an inability to attract investors to fund the redevelopment, according to Morrison.
In 2012, Montgomery County approved a sketch plan submitted by Lerner and The Tower Cos. to redevelop the mall into a town center with more than 2 million square feet of retail and office space, more than 2,400 apartment units, a hotel and an estimated 13 acres of public open space.
Plans submitted to the county to redevelop White Flint Mall.