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Mall's Comedown Taints Lerner Image

"The baggage and ghost of Landover Mall still negatively impact us today," says activist Arthur A. Turner Jr. of the Lerner Enterprises complex. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)

The rocky relationship between Lerner and Prince George's hit bottom in 1997 when mall managers complained in a letter to then-county executive Curry that bottlenecks caused by Redskins game-day traffic were hurting sales.

Curry fired back his own letter, noting that the Lerner company made major capital improvements at its other retail projects, including White Flint.

"Regrettably, I am unaware of similar marketing activities or capital investment at Landover Mall, despite the fact that it is located in one of the more affluent and diverse jurisdictions in the nation," Curry wrote.

Lerner representatives have pointed out that the mall's anchors operated under independent ownership, making it difficult for the company to mandate significant changes. When Garfinckel's closed in 1989, for example, it was never replaced.

Theresa Dudley, an activist from Landover, argued that county and state leaders failed to give Lerner the same economic incentives and assistance they gave to sports team owners Abe Pollin and Jack Kent Cooke, who built stadiums in Prince George's.

"Everyone wants Lerner to fork over money and fix up the mall, but he initially invested quite a bit of money," Dudley said. "Now everyone's saying it's Lerner's fault because he did not do anything. Why not give him the same deal as Pollin?"

William D. "Billy" Miller Jr., a former economic adviser to Curry, recalled meeting with Lerner representatives after Curry took office.

"If Lerner had a strategy for revitalizing or recasting that valuable property, we would have figured out ways we could help," Miller said. "The state was giving away $73 million for infrastructure for the stadium, but the proposals we saw [from Lerner] were only cosmetic."

In January, workers hired by Lerner Enterprises began tearing down Landover Mall. Last week, excavators dug into rubble from the steel-and-concrete frame, a Garfinckel's sign still mounted on one wing. The company is razing the building to save money on the sprinkler and heating systems required by county fire code, Gottlieb said.

County Council member David Harrington (D-Cheverly), who represents the district that includes the mall, said Lerner representatives have generally expressed a desire to build housing on the site even though the county would like to pursue a mixed-use project with retail and office space.

"We're going back and forth," Harrington said. "The Lerners could be a bit quicker to the table, but I wouldn't describe them as being resistant."

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