By Lisa J. Huriash, Sun Sentinel
October 13, 2013
The Fashion Mall — a once high-end destination that closed six years ago — has become a neglected property that keeps violating property codes, city officials say.
Now, in an attempt to bring improvements, officials are slapping the mall's owner, US Capital Holdings Group, with a $50,000 fine for violations. They also are requiring it to put up a $250,000 bond to guarantee that fixes, such as removing rust, are made.
Still, council members question if their efforts would make much difference in reviving the defunct property at 321 N. University Drive.
"I don't think I'm going to see it in my lifetime," said Mayor Diane Veltri Bendekovic.
In its heyday, the Fashion Mall had a reputation for selling luxury goods. But eventually, the 1988 facility faced stiff competition from the nearby Westfield Broward Mall.
After years of decline, a Chinese investment firm bought the property in 2004. US Capital Holdings Group had plans to create a facility that mixes housing with offices and shopping, and considered opening a 14-screen movie theater.
But those plans never panned out. Macy's closed in 2005, damaged by Hurricane Wilma. The rest of the mall closed in 2007.
Still, the mall owners never stopped talking about their redevelopment plans. The company renamed the mall to 321 North. In 2008, the council even waived a 12-story height limit to allow construction up to 16 stories for two office buildings.
The company eventually went into bankruptcy — the company says it has since emerged from it — but the city said neglect of the Fashion Mall has been a constant.
Code violations piled on: the city said the property needs landscaping work to replace dying trees and pressure cleaning. Officials complain about needed roof repair, rust on the railings on the parking garage, and holes and chipped paint on the building.
"The aesthetic condition of the Fashion Mall has been the source of complaints for years," City Attorney Donald Lunny Jr. wrote in a memo to the council. Still, he wrote, no work was done despite warnings.
Since the company is now seeking a bank loan to work on redevelopment efforts, it first needs a forbearance agreement from the city that Plantation won't prosecute old code violations.
So city officials said it's time to collect.
In an email sent through his public relations firm, Wei Chen, CEO of U.S. Capital Holdings Group, said he understands the city's position: "The owners are willing to cooperate and hope that the city will recognize this as a sign of commitment from the owners and to gain confidence that the city's continued cooperation will yield positive results."
The company is hoping to resurrect development. It submitted plans to City Hall in July that called for the first phase of a redevelopment effort to refurnish an existing, empty office building behind the mall.
The rest of its plans for later phases included 750 apartments in three buildings: the first at 18 stories; the second five stories and a combination of residential and retail space; and the third 10 stories of apartments. The mall itself would be reconstructed for retail and office space and seven additional free-standing buildings would be built along University Drive for retail.
City officials, however, sent the plans back to the developer, saying the paperwork was "incomplete."
And council members criticized US Capital for the delays, and for initially suggesting $5,000 was a reasonable penalty.
"You can't ignore your property for a gazillion years," Councilwoman Lynn Stoner told the mall's attorney, Paul D'Arelli. "More promises have been made on this property ... and nothing has come to fruition."
"It's been an eyesore," said Councilman Bob Levy.
Said Chen in his email: "Although we understand the frustration from the city, we point out that creating a mixed-use environment is a far more complex and expensive endeavor than others and takes time to properly present, finance and obtain development approvals."
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