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Atlas Park founder Hemmerdinger out as lenders take over

Neighbors of the struggling Shops at Atlas Park in Glendale reacted with mixed feelings to developer Damon Hemmerdinger’s announcement last week that he was out of the project, leaving his company’s creditors to run the mall.

“Damon got a taste of his own medicine now,” said Glendale Civic Association member Arlene LoMastro. “He was arrogant about the whole thing. He really didn’t have any consideration for the neighbors.”

In an open letter dated Jan. 21, Hemmerdinger said the involvement of ATCO Properties & Management, the Hemmerdinger family’s company, in the 400,000-square-foot mall would end effective Feb. 19.

ATCO’s lenders, the French banks Caylon and Societe Generale, will appoint a new management company, Hemmerdinger said. Representatives from Caylon did not return a request for comment by press time Tuesday.

News of Hemmerdinger’s departure did not soften the criticism from some Glendale residents who have complained of the mall’s garbage, teenagers, and ATCO’s successful efforts to reroute the Q45 bus to stop at the mall.

LoMastro said she goes to Atlas Park occasionally to see a movie or shop at Stein Mart, but was alarmed by the families playing in the mall’s fountain during the summer.

“I know they want the business, I understand that, but what you’re bringing into the neighborhood — they’re not buying anything at your store,” she said.

But Kathy Masi, president of the Glendale Civic, said she sympathized with Hemmerdinger despite her fervent opposition to rerouting the buses.

“I feel sorry for him,” she said. “This is four generations of Hemmerdingers. It’s really unfortunate to have a bank, particularly a foreign bank, take the property like that.”

But she also said the mall’s lack of an anchor store like a Macy’s or an Associated Supermarket contributed to its current woes.

Hemmerdinger defended his vision in the letter.

“I believe in Atlas Park, and I believe that the residents of Queens want, deserve and can support high-quality, aspirational retail, restaurants and entertainment,” he wrote, noting the mall saw foot traffic increase 30 percent last year and added 12 new stores.

Hemmerdinger declined to comment further or clarify the financial nature of his company’s break with Atlas Park.

But Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, said ATCO was likely unable to keep up its loan payments after a sluggish couple of years and the ongoing economic slump.

The $180 million project was completed in April 2006 with a $126 million loan from Wells Fargo.

“I’m sorry for his sake that it didn’t work out financially,” Giordano said. “I know he put a lot of time and effort into that to try to make it work.”

Dave Kerpen, who runs The K Buzz, a marketing company in Atlas Park’s office building, said he was saddened by the Hemmerdinger family’s departure.

“I think Damon and the management did everything they could to build out the property,” he said, blaming much of the mall’s misfortune on the nation’s economy, which recently claimed several national retailers.

“If you look at the stores that were in there, Bombay went under, that’s national. Blue Tulip went under. That’s national,” he said. “There are rumors about Borders — again, a national situation.”

The mall was built on part of Atlas Terminals, an industrial park dating back to the turn of the 20th century that the Hemmerdingers have owned since 1922.

Industry thrived there until the 1960s, when the city’s manufacturing and industrial economy entered a decades-long decline.

Hemmerdinger said he still hopes to redevelop the rest of the property, though he said the company has no specific plans.

As for the future of Atlas Park, Masi doubted the French banks would hold on to it for long.

“Do they want to deal with it? I don’t think so,” she said. “If this had been Chase or Citi or an American bank, they would have renegotiated and there never would have been a default.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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