Owners of Lakeforest Mall, a mainstay of Gaithersburg shopping when it opened 1978, have put the property up for sale after securities analysts said they were behind on loan payments.
The 1 million-square-foot mall, located off of Interstate 270 on Russell Avenue, has lost stature as one of Montgomery County’s top shopping attractions in recent years. It is one one of hundreds nationwide that is managed by Simon Property Group, an Indianapolis-based real estate investment trust. General Motors Asset Management, managers of the automaker’s pension plan, are majority owners of the mall and Simon owns a 25 percent stake.
Now the mall’s future is uncertain. In August of last year, securities analysts from Morningstar and Fitch reported that the owners had been unable to refinance a loan that had an outstanding balance of $138.7 million and that they had declined to exercise an extension. Eastdil, the real estate services firm, now lists the property for sale.
Les Morris, director of corporate public relations for Simon Property, said the company did not comment on potential transactions. Ronald M. Pastore, a director with AEW Capital Management, who represents GM Asset Management, did not return a request for comment.
Lakeforest’s owners have not had to scramble to find replacement tenants for any of the largest fatalities of the recession, such as Borders or Circuit City. Among its tenants are more than 100 shops and restaurants including Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret, the Children’s Place and American Eagle Outfitters.
But its four anchors, Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Sears and Lord & Taylor, own their own space and thus do not pay rent. In that, Lakeforest resembles another local center, Laurel Mall, whose anchors also own their own space. Laurel Mall’s owners struggled recently with cash flow problems.
Gaithersburg and Montgomery County officials have tried to work intermittently with Simon and the mall’s anchors toward improvements or possible redevelopment plans. Other mall owners, such as in White Flint, have proposed turning their properties into town centers. Lakeforest Mall’s parking lots could accommodate millions of square feet of new development.
“Over time the mall has changed when the market has changed,” said Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney A. Katz, who remembers when the property had an ice skating rink, and later a movie theater.
“What we would like to do, what the city would like to do, is to sit down and say look even if you are successful today, what can we do to make it even more successful?” he said.
County officials are waiting to see if the property will sell and to whom but, “I think everybody would see a situation where it would be great if the project wasn’t a sea of parking,” said Steve Silverman, county director of economic development. “But to the extent that you have long-term leases and a profitable mall, that would be a radical change.”