Sears has wanted to sublease its second floor space to Dick’s Sporting Goods, against the wishes of the The Gardens Mall owner.
The Gardens Mall last week filed a lawsuit against Sears’ parent company, the latest salvo in a long-running dispute about the department store’s ability to sublease its space at the Palm Beach Gardens shopping complex.
The Dec. 3 lawsuit was filed by mall owner Forbes/Cohen Florida Properties against Transform Operating Stores LLC, Sears’ parent company. The lawsuit asks a Palm Beach Court Circuit Court judge for a ruling that Transform can’t change the mall’s 1984 rules about The Gardens Mall’s appearance and design, including the look of anchor stores such as Sears.
Transform wants to put up a Dick’s Sporting Goods sign on the exterior of the Sears’ building and change some entrances.
>>READ: Sears sues Gardens Mall owner, city of Palm Beach Gardens over Dick’s deal
For some time, as Sears has struggled to survive the fickle retail industry, the department store company has been trying to sublease its second floor space to Dick’s.
At some malls, like The Gardens Mall, Sears leases its space. At other malls, such as the Town Center in Boca Raton, Sears owned its property.
In the wake of Sears’ financial problems, efforts by Sears to find new tenants for its space, or new uses for its property, have been met with fierce resistance by shopping mall owners.
In fact, the Town Center mall last month sued Sears’ property owner over a plan to put non-retail space on the shuttered Sears store there.
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And at The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, the mall’s owner for years has fought efforts by Sears to alter its department store.
The Gardens Mall is an upscale mall featuring 1.4 million square feet. In addition to Sears, department store tenants include Saks 5th Avenue, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Bloomingdales, as well as many luxury stores. The mall is east of Interstate 95 on PGA Boulevard.
Last month, Transform advised the mall it wanted to modify the Sears building at the location by shifting the entrance, changing the exterior facade of the building, adding a Dick’s sign, and moving the existing Sears signs on the east and north parts of the building.
It’ unclear in this new plan for Dick’s if the sporting goods store would prohibit the sale of weapons and ammunition, as previously agreed to in prior proposals.
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But it is clear Transform really wants to bring Dick’s to the mall. In fact, the mall’s lawsuit said Transform has threatened litigation if it doesn’t get its way over the sign and design changes. But in this case, the mall went to the courthouse first.
It’s not a new fight.
Back in 2014, Sears fired the first salvo in the legal war with the mall when it sued the mall and the city of Palm Beach Gardens asking a judge to give Sears the OK to sublease its space, according to Sears’ interpretation of its mall lease.
Sears lost the case at a bench trial but an appeals court overturned the ruling, finding that Sears had the right to sublease its space without the mall’s approval.
The ruling did not, however, address signage or other technical details of a sublease, now the crux of the current dispute.
>>OTHER STORIES: Boca Raton’s Town Center mall sues owner of Sears property
Last year, Sears submitted drawings to an architecture firm that oversees the mall’s construction and design. Sears’ attorney then sought a waiver to modify the Sears building for the Dick’s sublease.
Sears went back to court last year against both the city of Palm Beach Gardens and the mall’s owner, complaining that both once again were denying their right to sublease the space, this time because no one was allowing the signs and other changes needed for the Dick’s sublease.
Then Sears sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October, and the case went away.
Now Sears has a new owner, Transform, created to acquire Sears’ assets and subsidiaries.
Transform is led by Eddie Lambert, who formerly was chief executive and chairman of Sears. Forbes, in its complaint, said it isn’t happy with Transform, noting the company has a “ceaseless pattern of threats and demands.”
A Transform spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
As the litigation over the Gardens mall Sears starts, a lawsuit continues over the future of the shuttered Sears store at the Town Center mall in Boca Raton. At issue is whether Seritage SRC Finance LLC, the owner of the Sears property, can develop the site into non-retail uses without complying with an agreement that gives the mall the right to buy the property first.