Creditors began foreclosure action on the financially beleaguered Rockville Metro Center mall last week, and city officials say they hope a new management company will take over the property considered to be the keystone to reviving the downtown area.

Rockville Mayor Douglas M. Duncan said the decision by Marine Midland Realty Credit Corp. of Wilmington, Del., to file for foreclosure ends months of frustration with the owners, who include Eisinger-Kilbane and Associates, the Bethesda development company that is experiencing financial problems.

"It doesn't come as a surprise, exactly," said Duncan of last Friday's filing in Montgomery County Circuit Court. "And, we're hopeful this will actually bring some movement" in attracting new managers to the project. Duncan said two companies, which he declined to name, have expressed interest in perhaps taking over the mall.

The foreclosure filing on the mall's $39 million mortgage is a burden that falls most heavily on Eisinger-Kilbane, the largest investor. Nearly $41 million in principal, interest and penalties now is owed on that loan. Marine Midland attorney Richard G. Wise said the corporation intends to sell the mall at an auction next month.

For the city of Rockville, these financial problems could mean a $1 million loss -- money owed in back rent on the city-owned garage in the mall that the developer leases. On Tuesday, the city notified the developer that it was in default, an action that Duncan said gives the developer 60 days to pay.

If that is not done, and Marine Midland begins paying the $40,000 monthly rent, Duncan said, the city loses the $1 million in back rent.

Duncan, noting that the garage has been poorly managed, said the city is prepared to assume temporary management of the garage.

John Kilbane said this week that all of the development partners in the mall are working with Marine Midland to find a way to complete the project and that he expects an agreement within a week. Kilbane declined to provide details on the nature of those negotiations.

Finding a key to success for the mall, located across from the Rockville Metrorail station, has long confounded developers and Rockville politicians. What started in the 1960s as a strip of restaurants and small shops, was razed in 1969 to erect a large mall, which remained virtually empty until a multi-screen movie theater, offices and a few restaurants arrived last summer.