Developer eyes January for unveiling of plans for Laurel Mall renovation

Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006

Laurel Mall owner Somera Capital Management will hold a public announcement in January about its plans to remake the struggling 27-year-old complex into a premier, town center-style shopping destination.

Somera officials confirmed that an announcement is planned for next month but said an exact date and venue had not been set.

City officials are hoping redevelopment of the mall at Route 1 and Cherry Lane will bring to Laurel the type of upscale retailers they say the city deserves and encourage other revitalization projects in the Route 1 corridor.

‘‘It’s going to be a huge catalyst for Route 1,” said Karl Brendle, Laurel’s director of Community Services and Business Planning.

The mall overhaul will likely include a full-scale renovation of the existing two-story, more than 664,000-square-foot structure and construction of free-standing restaurants and shops, said City Councilman Mike Sarich, whose ward includes the mall.

Sarich, who said information is based on briefings given to City Council members and discussions with members of the city’s business community, said an eight-screen movie theater is also probable.

The mall’s parking garage, Sarich added, would be knocked down and the complex’s exterior transformed into a pedestrian-friendly promenade in the vein of Bowie Town Center.

Somera owns 23 acres of the 35-acre mall site. The Burlington Coat Factory building and its parking lot are owned by the Berman family, which has several holdings in the area, City Council President Frederick Smalls said.

A shortage of upscale retailers in the city drives many residents out of the county to do their shopping, Smalls said.

‘‘Demographically, and on an economic scale, the city has changed considerably,” Smalls said. ‘‘We’d like to see our retail reflect that.”

Upscale retailers are expected to be part of the redevelopment, said Sarich, who stopped short of naming specific tenants.

‘‘Nothing of this is written in stone,” he stressed. But, he added, ‘‘Even if half of what we think is going to happen happens,” the project would still be a significant improvement for the community.

Somera, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., purchased Laurel Mall for $31 million in early 2006. The mall had been in receivership since February 2005 after its previous owner, Laurel Centre Associates, defaulted on its debt payment.

Formed in 1994, Somera has experience in acquiring and redeveloping malls across the country. Other investments include Metro Center Mall in Phoenix and West Oaks Mall in Houston.