By  on February 3, 2009

NEW YORK — Damon Hemmerdinger, the owner of The Mall at Atlas Park in Glendale, N.Y., made headlines last year when he gave away $20,000 — mostly in $1 bills — to random shoppers in an effort to spark the economy. Now, he’s making news again, but for less positive reasons.

The president of Atco Properties & Management defaulted on a loan payment that was due to French banks Société Générale and Caylon. Effective Feb. 19, the project’s lenders will take over the mall from Hemmerdinger.

“I must regretfully inform you…our lenders, who are headquartered in France, will be appointing a new management company for The Shops at Atlas Park,” Hemmerdinger wrote in a letter to tenants, community leaders and vendors that was released late last month. He maintained that the mall had 30 percent more foot traffic last year when 12 new stores opened.

The Shops at Atlas Park was an audacious project from the start — a stylish open-air lifestyle center with manicured lawns, fountains and white stucco buildings in a blue-collar section of Queens.

The stores are a mix of national chains and local retailers such as the one-off Femme 1231, which sells denim brands Diesel, Genetic, Frankie B., True Religion, William Rast and Salvage. There’s also Chico’s, Coldwater Creek, Jos. A. Bank and a 6,000-square-foot Rock & Republic Couture store.

Hemmerdinger last spring gave away $20,000 in cash — of his own money — and challenged other malls to do the same.

“If every shopping center around the country joined us and gave away just 5 cents per square foot, an astounding $342.8 million would be placed in consumers’ hands,” he said at the time, adding: “We at the Shops of Atlas Park did our part. If we did it, so can other shopping centers.”

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