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Greengate's new owner envisions strip mall

| Thursday, Dec. 12, 2002

The new owners of the Greengate Mall plan to raze the empty, 37-year-old concrete complex and build a new strip shopping center in its place.

Michael Staenberg, president of St. Louis-based THF Realty, said Wednesday that his group has the property under contract, and his plan is to own the Hempfield Township shopping complex.

"I have it under contract...It's sealed in stone," Staenberg said during an interview from St. Louis yesterday.

The vacant, 650,000-square-foot shopping complex has been owned since August 1998 by Greengate GP Corp., a subsidiary of New York Property Holding Corp. The group paid $1.6 million to purchase the mall from its longtime owner, the Rouse Co., of Maryland.

Staenberg did not divulge how much THF Realty is paying for Greengate Mall. "At this point, all I can say is we made a nice buy," he said.

For the past several years, the only thing constant about Greengate Mall has been change.

Several leasing and development agents have come and gone over the years, unable to turn around the facility, which saw all of its major anchors and dozens of smaller retail and retail outlets either close or flee the struggling shopping mall. The few remaining stores were issued lease termination notices last July.

Staenberg said he envisions construction of a new strip center on the site. He said he has several tenants lined up, but declined to disclose their identities.

"I'm going to tear the mall down. It will be a strip center, no renovations, a complete tear-down," said Staenberg, who added he plans to begin work this summer.

Staenberg said THF Realty has done a lot of deals involving Bentonville, Ark,-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Asked whether Wal-Mart was involved in the Greengate project, Staenberg replied, "I don't think so <#201> not to my knowledge."

Local economic development officials said any movement on the Greengate situation is good.

"Whatever happens there is positive. When you see grass growing between the cracks in the asphalt, that doesn't bode well," said Larry J. Larese, executive director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp.

Larese said he wasn't surprised that Greengate Mall would be torn down to pave the way for a strip mall, since its comparatively small size would dampen enthusiasm of larger retail outlets. He also estimated that the cost to renovate the building would be "substantial."

"Apparently, they (THF Realty) don't feel it's large enough to accommodate the large retailers. But when you talk strip mall, that changes things completely," Larese said.

Larese said that at one time, Greengate Mall had a lot of charm, most of which has dissipated in the wake of the building's buckled floors, cracked walls and poor roof. "There's no sentimental value when it comes to business," he said.

John A. Skiavo, executive director of the Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland County, expressed a measure of surprise when apprised of plans to build a strip center, especially with the proliferation of similar, albeit smaller, centers located up and down the Route 30 corridor.

Skiavo agreed that Greengate Mall had seen better days. "It was a nice building at one time, but unfortunately it's become an eyesore," he said.

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