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Outlet Mall clears rezoning hurdle

June 13, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Prime Retail's efforts to build a $40 million, 100-store outlet mall outside Hagerstown received a big boost Friday when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the rezoning of 43 acres for the mall.

The company plans to start construction of the first phase of the project this year with completion by mid-1998, officials said.

"We're obviously pleased with the court's decision, which means we can aggressively move forward with the project," said William H. Carpenter Jr., president and chief operating officer of Prime Retail. "We've had a lot of interest in the location from prospective merchants and now we can step up our leasing efforts."

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The Civil War-themed Hagerstown Factory Shops are planned for 60 acres on the Sharpsburg Pike just off of Interstate 70 south of Hagerstown. The first phase of the shopping center would include 60 shops and about 240,000 square feet, before growing to a total of 440,000 square feet.

Prime Retail spokesman Brian Lewbart said the company has leased nearly 50 percent of the shops for the first phase. The company has a policy not to break ground unless it has at least 50 percent leased.

The Washington County Commissioners had approved the rezoning but were challenged in court by a group of people, including some residents who live near the Barkdoll property and Valley Mall in Halfway. The Washington County Circuit Court had blocked the rezoning, but was overruled.

Attorney William C. Wantz, who is representing Valley Mall and other opponents of the rezoning, said a decision regarding whether to petition the Maryland Court of Appeals to hear the case is under consideration.

"We're confident that there would be little interest in taking the case," said Kelvin Antill, Prime Retail assistant general counsel and vice president.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission has projected the mall will employ about 1,000 people and pay wages in excess of $13.4 million a year.

Most of the shoppers at the mall are expected to come from outside the county.

Lewbart said the company can't release the names of its tenants yet, but said stores will include apparel, shoes, accessories and toys.

"There has been great tenant interest in this project," Antill said. "There is a place on the western side of the Washington area that is not being served adequately by the outlet industry."

The timing was important because two competitors have announced plans for outlet malls in northern Virginia. Prime Retail officials said the first center to open would have an advantage in luring customers.

Washington County Planning Director Robert Arch said construction couldn't start until a site plan and building permits are approved, which could take several months.

"I know there is going to be a lot of traffic issues involved," Arch said. Another issue will be stormwater management, he said.

Baltimore-based Prime Retail was also embroiled in a legal battle with the owner of the Blue Ridge Outlet Mall in Martinsburg, W.Va. That dispute ended last year with the two companies agreeing to drop their lawsuits against each other. Blue Ridge had been appealing a federal court's dismissal of its breach-of-contract claim.

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