The Hecht Co. plans to build a two-story store at Wheaton Plaza as part of a plan to upgrade the shopping mall, one of the owners of the Wheaton Plaza shopping center said yesterday.
"Hecht's has agreed upon everything," said H. Max Ammerman, one of the Wheaton Plaza partners. "It depends on the May Co. Hecht's parent company ratifying it."
Hecht's has signed a letter of intent to build a 180,000-square-foot store on the south end of Wheaton Plaza, said Victoria S. Berghel, an attorney for the partnership that owns the shopping mall, which is situated in Montgomery County near a planned extension of the Metrorail system.
A Hecht's spokesman said the company has "no announcement about its plans, but hopes to in the near future." Charles Luber, vice president of real estate for the May Co. of St. Louis, said a final agreement had not been reached, but that, "Yes, we're making an effort to do it."
In a separate development, Theodore N. Lerner confirmed yesterday that he has sold his stake in Wheaton Plaza to one of the other partners for an undisclosed amount. Last year, other partners in the plaza filed suit against Lerner charging him with blocking Hecht's plans to open a store at the shopping center. That suit was dropped as part of the sale.
Lerner sold his 11 percent interest in the shopping center to Homer Gudelsky, one of his original partners in the development of Wheaton Plaza, Tysons Corner and Tysons II.
The closest Hecht Co. stores to Wheaton Plaza are in downtown Silver Spring and in Prince George's Plaza.
Tax records show the market value of Wheaton Plaza as $52 million, according to Lusk's Montgomery County Real Estate Directory Service, published by Rufus S. Lusk & Son Inc. So Lerner's 11 percent would be worth about $5.7 million.
Wheaton Plaza now comprises 802,969 square feet of office and retail space, including Woodward & Lothrop and Montgomery Ward's stores, on 77 acres, Lusk said.
The new Hecht's would mean "an absolutely tremendous expansion of the center," Berghel said, adding that it will coincide with an overhaul of the mall's landscaping and parking design. Hecht's "will have a terrific impact on the mall" and will be part of an effort "to upgrade it into a first class center," she said.
Berghel said a current cost figure was not available, but Hecht's initially discussed plans to build a 115,000-square-foot store at a cost of more than $15 million with annual sales of more than $32 million. Now, Hecht's plans to build a 180,000-square-foot store, which compares with the 275,000 square feet in Hecht's new Metro Center store opened last year.
Construction will begin "as soon as the lease for the site is signed," said Ammerman, one of the partners, adding that a construction company and an architectural firm have begun drawing up plans.
The efforts to bring Hecht's to Wheaton Plaza was one of many disputes between Lerner and the other partners during their stormy history.
The other partners, Ammerman, the Gudelsky Brothers Partnership, and Simon Sherman, sued Lerner last May charging that he was trying to block construction of a Hecht's at Wheaton to protect business at his White Flint Mall nearby.
Homer Gudelsky's purchase of Lerner's stake effectively ended one of the rockiest relationships in the local real estate community.
The two developers, who have been embroiled in legal disputes for years, "have resolved their differences and have agreed to dismiss all litigation existing between them," according to a statement issued yesterday by Lerner Corp.
Lerner has built thousands of apartments and offices in the Washington area and has been a partner in the development of several local shopping centers, including White Flint, Wheaton Plaza, Landover Mall and Tysons Corner.
Gudelsky is the last survivor of three brothers who together owned 81 percent of Wheaton Plaza and who allowed Lerner to purchase an 11 percent interest in 1955, forming a partnership that was to build one of the first shopping malls in the nation. The other brothers, Isadore and Harry, died in the early 1960s.
The Gudelskys later allowed Lerner to buy 25 percent of the Tysons Corner shopping center and 25 percent of the Tysons II tract, a 117-acre site adjacent to Tysons Corner.
Lerner bought his partners' shares of the Tysons II property for $28 million after a bitter court dispute in 1983. The partners agreed last February to sell Tysons Corner for $167 million.
Lerner and Gudelsky are now "winding up" their affairs concerning the Tysons Corner sale, so the business relationship was "effectively ended" by Lerner's sale of his share of Wheaton Plaza, said Arthur Fuccillo, general counsel for Lerner Corp.
Because Lerner has sold his Wheaton stake, the other partners have agreed to drop their suit against him, said an attorney for the partnership. That suit sought $30 million and asked that Lerner be forced out of the partnership. They asked the Montgomery County Circuit Court to dissolve the partnership, to award them $10 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages, and to order Lerner to refrain "from any actions which may interfere with the business and affairs of Wheaton Plaza."
Lerner agreed in September to allow the Hecht's store to be built, Berghel said.
The partners had fought in earlier years over their voting rights following the deaths of Isadore and Harry Gudelsky, and the subsequent formation of the Gudelsky Brothers Partnership to manage their shares and those of Homer Gudelsky.
They disagreed in 1974, when Lerner objected to the others' plans to enclose the 79-acre open-air mall. According to court documents, the partners alleged that Lerner caused an eight-year delay in the enclosure that multiplied its cost.
Then in 1983, the other partners fired the Lerner Corp. as manager of Wheaton Plaza, an action that Lerner unsuccessfully challenged in Montgomery Circuit Court.