Lord & Taylor says no to plan for White Flint Mall


White Flint Mall along Rockville Pike in North Bethesda. The owners want to turn the mall into a town center with retail, offices and a hotel. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

Not everyone is excited about the planned redevelopment of White Flint Mall.

Lord & Taylor, the department store that has operated there since 1976, filed a suit against the owners of the mall July 1 in U.S. District Court to prevent the planned overhaul of the mall into a town center that would have apartments, offices and an outdoor shopping center.

White Flint Mall is among the holdings of two long-time real estate families in Maryland, the Lerners and Abramsons. When they were developing the mall in the 1970s, the families landed leases from Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s to serve as anchors.

In recent years, as consumers have changed their shopping habits, regional malls such as White Flint have seen their fortunes decline. Last year the Bloomingdale’s closed, in what parent company Macy’s called a move to “selectively prune underperforming locations.” The store has been demolished.

Lerner Enterprises, headed by Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner, and the Tower Cos. (controlled by the Abramsons), began moving to redevelop the mall, hiring Boston-based architect Elkus Manfrediun and crafting plans to close nearly all of the mall’s existing stores and build a central plaza in the middle of the 45-acre property surrounded with new housing and shopping.

The plans ultimately called for 5.2 million square feet of buildings, including 1 million square feet of offices in three buildings along Rockville Pike, 1 million square feet of retail, 2,500 residential units and a 300-room hotel. The current three-level mall is about 800,000 square feet.

The Lerners unveiled their vision to the community in 2011 and later submitted a sketch plan to Montgomery County, which the county approved last year.

The plans called for Lord & Taylor to remain in place as part of the new development, but the changes are not to the department store’s liking. In the 14-page complaint, Lord & Taylor says that its original 1975 agreement with the mall’s owners states that the Lerners and Abramsons “cannot, without the prior consent of Lord & Taylor, alter, modify or change the architectural design or the appearance, or change the number of floors, size or location of the buildings” or parking areas.

Such agreements were common between anchor tenants and mall developers. In Arlington, for instance, developer Forest City Washington has been negotiating with Macy’s over its plans to upgrade portions of Ballston Mall.

Lord & Taylor asked the court to issue a permanent injunction against the redevelopment plan. Among the concerns it listed were the modified look of the mall property, a lack of sufficient parking and the move away from the property being intended mainly for retail. It claimed that the owners had driven vacancy up to 40 percent in the mall in preparation for the redevelopment.

Arthur N. Fuccillo, who manages the redevelopment for the Lerners and Abramsons, did not return a request for comment. Lord & Taylor is represented in the case by Greenberg Traurig, through its Tysons Corner office. The suit was reported earlier by the Washington Business Journal.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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