Mall's Comedown Taints Lerner Image
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
After being named owner-to-be of the Washington Nationals, Theodore N. Lerner proclaimed that the team and the new ballpark in Southeast would be his legacy, the capstone in a long, distinguished career as one of the region's most influential builders.
Tysons Corner Center in Fairfax County, White Flint Mall in Montgomery County and Dulles Town Center in Loudoun County are a few of the projects on which the 80-year-old Bethesda developer has made his reputation.
But in Prince George's County, Lerner's legacy is clouded by the fate of the Landover Mall, a once-thriving retail destination whose long, slow decline was punctuated when it was shuttered in 2002. Built and owned by Lerner Enterprises, the complex -- on a 110-acre site just inside the Capital Beltway, near the Washington Redskins' FedEx Field -- has sat dark and empty for four years, with the exception of a Sears store that remains open. The marquee is covered in sheets, the grass is calf-high and the vast parking lot is used for overflow football crowds.
Some Prince George's civic activists and the administration of former county executive Wayne K. Curry (D) have charged that the project symbolizes the broad neglect of the predominantly black county by major developers and retailers.
"When I look at the news and read stories, everyone fawns over what a great man he is," said Arthur A. Turner Jr., an activist from the nearby Kettering neighborhood who has lobbied county leaders to seize the property through eminent domain. "But the baggage and ghost of Landover Mall still negatively impact us today. He's a failure in Prince George's County."
Curry, who was county executive from 1994 to 2002, complained that Lerner invested heavily in his malls in other jurisdictions but failed to reinvest in Landover Mall after it opened in 1972.
Other county residents and the administration of current County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) have been more tempered, saying they hope the Lerner company will redevelop the site. They say Lerner could ride the momentum created by several new projects, including the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, featuring the Magic Johnson movie theaters, and the Woodmore Town Centre, which will include a Wegmans grocery store.
Alan H. Gottlieb, chief operating officer of Lerner Enterprises, said company officials have met a half-dozen times with Prince George's leaders in the past year.
"We listened to their vision for the site and spoke of our desire to build a great project," Gottlieb said in an e-mail. "We discussed potential uses and shared information to create the foundation for a working partnership with the county."
Gottlieb added that Lerner Enterprises has made significant investment in Prince George's beyond Landover Mall: The company owns the Greenbelt Marriott and helped build 3,000 apartment units in the county.
Landover Mall opened when Prince George's was still a predominantly white county. A regional attraction, the mall featured high-end department stores, a movie theater and an ice cream shop.
But when anchor stores Garfinckel's, Raleighs and Woodward & Lothrop went out of business, the mall began to decline. The Gap moved out, and the Dollar Store moved in. Meanwhile, the county was changing, too, becoming predominantly African American, with a higher level of affluence outside the Capital Beltway but growing social problems.