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University to buy Martinsburg Mall

October 30, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Mountain State University in Martinsburg has signed an agreement to buy the Martinsburg Mall and adjoining property, the branch campus' provost said Friday.

The purchase and sale agreement with Jones Lang Lasalle Americas Inc. was noted in the school's pending application with the City of Martinsburg's planning commission earlier this month.

Provost Elizabeth Layne Diehl on Friday said the school did not yet own the mall, which has struggled amid the depressed economy, but anticipated the school's proposed occupancy there would be a boon for the retail center at 800 Foxcroft Ave. Diehl would not disclose the purchase price.

The mall would continue to be primarily a retail center with new educational uses, according to Diehl.

The university hopes to use 13,713 square feet of available space inside the mall at the entrance to Bon-Ton, according to a zoning map amendment application filed with the city.

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A public hearing will be held Wednesday by the Martinsburg Planning Commission to consider the college's request to revise a portion of the original concept plan for additional uses to the mall building and undeveloped land adjoining the structure.

The university's proposed conceptual changes for 9.19 acres of the 79-acre property include classroom and office space and potential development of a student residence hall and outdoor recreation area, according to the application.

Even after purchasing the mall, Mountain State still would have to submit specific plans for a residence hall or the recreation area, which are envisioned on undeveloped land along Mall Drive.

Mountain State's application also notes the potential sale of a 1.47-acre outparcel next to Martin's Food Market to a chain restaurant along Interstate 81 and the mall loop.

"We do not want to take over the entire mall," Diehl said.

The school is hoping its proposed location at the retail center will bring additional foot traffic and business to the mall.

Earlier this month, the school's request of the city planning commission to allow colleges and universities in the planned business zone unanimously was endorsed by the panel.

That amendment to the zoning table, along with the additional changes proposed in the university's pending application with the planning commission, still have to be approved by Martinsburg City Council.

The school's proposal comes less than a year after the mall was placed in receivership of Jones Lang Lasalle, a Chicago-based corporation.

The mall owner defaulted on debt payments in fall 2008, according to court records filed in Berkeley County Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine's office.

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 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 the university's applications.

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