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University seeks portion of mall for campus

October 01, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Mountain State University is in "confidential discussions" with the Martinsburg Mall to use a portion of the sprawling retail center for the college's Martinsburg campus, a school official said Thursday.

"The (mall's) currently vacant space is approximately the amount of square feet that is needed for (Mountain State's) current and immediately foreseeable needs," Provost Layne Diehl said in a Martinsburg Planning Commission application filed this week.

The branch campus, now in the former Tanger Outlet Center at 214 Viking Way, is asking the city to allow a college or university in a planned business district by adding a text amendment to the city's table of zoning district uses.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the college's request at 7 p.m. Wednesday in City Council chambers at 232 N. Queen St.

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Diehl said in a brief interview Thursday that she was not able to discuss the school's notarized application, which she signed Wednesday.

"We hope to be able to do some really great things in Martinsburg," Diehl said.

The mall's proximity to major roads, such as Interstate 81 and W.Va. 45, and the adaptability of the available space make the 800 Foxcroft Ave. location one of the school's "top options," Diehl said in the application.

"While providing for (Mountain State's) needs, the mall would continue to serve as a retail hub for Martinsburg and the Foxcroft corridor specifically, as (the school) has no intent to displace the stores now occupying the mall," Diehl wrote.

"In fact, applicant's expansion would bring more people to the Mall and the area (around it) on a daily basis seeking (Mountain State's) educational services," Diehl wrote in the application.

The school's proposal comes little more than eight months after the mall was placed in receivership of a Chicago-based corporation after the company that owns it defaulted on debt payments in the fall of 2008, according to court records filed in Berkeley County Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine's office.

Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. was appointed in January 2009 to serve as the retail center's primary leasing and managing agent, according to court records.

A complaint filed Dec. 23, 2008, in circuit court claims payments on a 2006 loan were not made by Martinsburg Mall LLC beginning Sept. 1, 2008, and again on the first day of every month since.

Martinsburg Mall LLC is part of Prime Retail Inc., based in Baltimore. Prime Retail's parent company is The Lightstone Group in Lakewood, N.J., according to court filings.

Martinsburg Mall LLC purchased the 555,926-square-foot property for $27 million in September 2004 from PR Financing Limited Partnership, a Delaware-based limited partnership, according to a copy of a deed included in Mountain State University Inc.'s application filed with the city.

In a May 2009 interview, Diehl said enrollment at the Martinsburg campus of the private, not-for-profit school based in Beckley, W.Va., doubled in about five years and more classroom space was needed.

MSU-Martinsburg this spring used about 50,000 square feet in the former Tanger Outlet Center off West King Street. The building was renamed University Center by the college, which served more than 1,000 students last year, Diehl said in the interview.

If you go



What: Public hearing on Mountain State University's request to allow a college or university in a planned business district

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: City Council chambers, 232 N. Queen St., Martinsburg, W.Va.

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