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Major Los Angeles-area developer considered partnering on East Hills Mall

East Hills Mall 3

East Hills Mall's future remains up in the air after local developers essentially ceded ownership back to the property's previous owner, Modesto-based The Save Mart Cos. Inc.

A major Southern California real estate development company was closely involved with earlier plans to tear down and redevelop East Hills Mall and may yet take a central role in the project, The Californian has learned.

Bakersfield city officials say City of Industry-based Majestic Realty Co. — whose president and chairman co-owns the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and the Staples Center in downtown L.A. — had been in talks with the mall's former local owners about partnering to turn the dilapidated property into a retail, dining and entertainment project called City Lights.

Although that partnership never materialized and ownership of the mall recently reverted to Modesto-based The Save Mart Cos. Inc., the officials said the fact that the earlier plan won various approvals means it could quickly be revived.

"They’d be able to hit the ground running," Assistant City Manager Jacqui Kitchen said Friday. "They can build upon the efforts that were done over the last several years and … it’s not completely starting over."

A local businessman, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, said talks were scheduled to take place between the two parties earlier this week.

Kitchen and City Manager Alan Tandy said they had no information about more recent discussions between Majestic and Save Mart. But they were hopeful an agreement could be reached.

"Talks don't necessarily mean that there's a deal, but certainly, should a major developer step in and take it up, we would be" pleased, Tandy said.

No update on talks between the two parties was available. An attorney representing Save Mart declined to address a question Friday about whether a deal between the company and Majestic was likely.

"I don't have any comment for you. Thanks. Bye," the attorney, J. Barrett Marum, said Friday before abruptly hanging up.

Others representing Save Mart have either said they have no information about any talks between the two companies or declined to return calls requesting comment.

It should noted neither they, nor any others who have been involved with the mall discussions denied the existence of talks between Save Mart and Majestic.

A spokesman for Majestic said earlier in the week he was unable to provide any information on whether the company was in talks about the mall's future. A call Friday morning to Majestic President and Chairman Edward P. Roski Jr. was not immediately returned.

East Hills Mall has fallen into blight since its closure several years ago. The 350,500-square-foot site was going to be razed and something built in its place by local developers organized into two entities, MarkChris Investments LLC and CityLights LLC.

But two years after they agreed to buy the mall from Save Mart for $8.5 million, the local developers missed a $7.5 million loan payment. County records show they sold the property earlier this month to Save Mart for $10, thereby erasing their debt to the grocery-store chain.

Two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter said it was unclear why the proposed partnership between Majestic and the local development partners unraveled.

Kitchen said it was unclear to her, as well, why the proposed partnership did not come together.

Representatives of the MarkChris-CityLights development partnership did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Privately held Majestic has offices across the country. It has done many large developments during its 70-year history, from industrial parks to retail and entertainment projects. The company's website says its portfolio comprises projects totaling 76.5 million square feet of space.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

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