The company that owns the Washington area's most successful mall -- Tysons Corner Center -- has paid more than $200 million for a 50 percent stake in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, another popular Northern Virginia retail center.

Dallas-based Lehndorff Group, a national commercial real estate firm, said it bought the stake in the mall from its original developer, Melvin Simon & Associates of Indianapolis. The deal has been in the works for at least six months and was completed near the end of December, sources at both companies said.

The price of about $200 million for Lehndorff's 50 percent stake was approximately equal to Simon's total construction cost for the Fashion Centre, which was completed a year ago.

Most real estate observers said they were not surprised by the $500-a-square-foot "full price" paid in a mostly lackluster Washington real estate market because of Pentagon City's financial success. The four-tiered complex, with Nordstrom and Macy's as anchors, reportedly has sales of more than $300 a square foot, well above the national average of about $250 a square foot.

According to officials at Melvin Simon & Associates, a national shopping center developer, the deal was made to free up cash for the company's latest project -- the 4.2 million-square-foot, $600 million Mall of America, scheduled to open next fall in Bloomington, Minn.

"We are realizing a return on our investment at Pentagon City when we need it," a Melvin Simon executive said.

The mall, with 860,000 square feet of space on 25 acres between Crystal City and the Pentagon and almost directly above the Pentagon City Metro station, will continue to be managed by Melvin Simon, which built the mall in partnership with the New York-based Rose Associates real estate firm. The $200 million complex includes movie theaters, a 13-story office building and a 345-room Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which was not part of the deal.

"Pentagon City is a crown jewel that is ideally positioned for the future," said Warren Dahlstrom, director of investment brokerage at the Washington office of Grubb & Ellis, a commercial real estate brokerage firm. "For Simon, the mall has been a home run and for Lehndorff, it will be a wonderful investment."

When the Pentagon City development was first proposed, many retail observers thought it would suffer from intense competition from the many large-scale malls nearby, such as Landmark Mall, Ballston Common, Seven Corners, Fair Oaks Center, Springfield Mall, Tysons Corner Centre and the Galleria at Tysons II along with the shopping areas of Alexandria and Georgetown in the District.

But proximity to the major highways, the link with the Metro system and its urban rather than suburban mood quickly made the development a favorite of upscale District consumers. According to a recent poll of shoppers by Massachusetts-based Babson College, the mall attracts the most affluent, young and trendy customers of any retail venue in the area.

"It's definitely a barn burner," said Robert Lerner of the Smithy Braedon real estate brokerage firm in Washington. "With those kinds of results, they can pick and choose tenants."

Lerner said mall officials had told him they had a solid list of 40 tenants wanting to join the 150-store center, and he estimated that leases range from $25 per square foot to $100 per square foot. Rents in malls elsewhere in the area range from $30 to $40 per square foot, and some malls are charging only percentages of sales for rent.

Lehndorff, one of nation's largest commercial real estate firms, owns and manages a $4 billion portfolio of commercial real estate nationwide, including more than 20 million square feet of retail, office and industrial properties.

In addition to the 1.95 million-square-foot Tysons Corner Center, Lehndorff owns and manages a number of prominent office buildings in the Washington area, including a pair of office buildings directly across the street from the Pentagon City mall. The firm, which invests its own funds, also buys properties on behalf of its clients, including pension funds and insurance companies.