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Southlake Mall owner declares bankruptcy

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The owner of Southlake Mall filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday in a move to restructure $27 billion in debt.

General Growth Properties, the nation's second-largest mall owner, operates eight shopping malls in Georgia, four of which are in the metro-Atlanta area.

"GGP has sought bankruptcy court assistance to restructure our finances and de-leverage our balance sheet because the collapse of the credit markets has made it impossible for GGP to refinance our maturing debt outside of Chapter 11," the company said in a statement posted on its web site. "GGP's retail centers, office properties and master planned community will be open for business as usual as the company restructures our debt. Our properties will continue to operate, our employees will continue to come to work and get paid, and shoppers will continue to shop."

The news of the company's bankruptcy sent GGP stock down 15 percent to 89 cents by mid-day Thursday. According to The Associated Press, the company's stock traded as high as $44.23 last spring.

GGP owns more than 200 malls across the country, including Southlake Mall in Morrow, Cumberland Mall and Perimeter Mall in Atlanta, and North Point Mall in Alpharetta.

On Thursday, representatives from Southlake Mall deferred all inquiries about the bankruptcy to GGP's media relations office. A spokesperson for GGP could not be reached by phone or e-mail Thursday.

Morrow City Manager John Lampl said that since Southlake Mall's opening in 1976, GGP has been "a great partner for the city." He said the city has been aware of the company's financial challenges for years and that the bankruptcy filing was no cause for alarm.

"We've been watching Bloomberg for a while," Lampl said. "When they [GGP] purchased the Rouse Company, they really took on a lot of debt. That was a few years ago. [GGP] had great properties, but they just couldn't refinance their debt structure. They just got caught up in the national economy."

Lampl said Southlake Mall is "a small part" of a national restructuring of GGP, and believes local shoppers will not be affected.

"It's a strong company," said Lampl. "I would predict that they will come back as a stronger company, staying relatively intact. This will be a great opportunity for them to clear their balance sheet.

"Because it's taking place on the national level, not much will really change in the short term," he added. "The stores are operated by individual owners, so the average person won't notice the difference."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.