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Home furnisher sues World Market Center, wants out of lease

The World Market Center in recent years has served eviction notices on dozens of tenants unable or unwilling to pay the rent to keep their showrooms.

But Bel Air Home Furnishings, unhappy with the level of business it has generated during the World Market Center’s semiannual furniture and furnishings shows, has turned the tables by trying to sue its way out without covering the rest of its lease. If the current schedule holds, the Clark County District Court case would come to trial in mid-April.

Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez on Tuesday told Bel Air, based in Valencia, Calif., to turn over its financial statements if it hopes to win damages for what it contends was weak traffic to its showroom due to World Market Center leasing practices.

In a lawsuit filed in March, Bel Air contended that it moved to the 10th floor of the center’s Building C in 2008 based on a promise that it would be in the middle of cluster of lighting stores. Manufacturers and wholesalers like to exhibit as a neighborhood, rather than having retail store buyers trek all over the market and possibly miss them.

In court papers, Bel Air contended that center leasing officials touted the floor as “a vibrant space that would become the premier place in the nation for buyers and others to find lighting products.” Instead, Bel Air treasurer David Ziv noted, sales and foot traffic turned out to be far skimpier than expected.

The center’s online floor plan shows five of the 34 showrooms now occupied by lighting companies, with Bel Air having the largest space. Five other lighting companies on the floor during the market last August have since moved to Building A.

As a result, Bel Air wants out of its lease, which now costs $17,000 a month and goes to $22,600 per month for 14 months starting in May. The company also seeks unspecified damages.

In court papers, World Market Center counters that Bel Air is blaming it for the recession, which smacked down the home furnishings industry nationwide and shrank tenant rolls at the center and at several market complexes in High Point, N.C.

Center officials declined to comment.

But court papers make the case that the center never made any promises of how much business Bel Air would generate. Moreover, they point out that Bel Air received a substantial rent reduction and several other concessions in 2009, as well as other financial inducements, but showed ingratitude in return.

“Regardless of the extraordinary rent concessions that Bel Air received … Bel Air began disparaging (World Market Center) to other tenants,” Philip McKay, a former senior vice president of the center, said in court documents.

Bel Air opened at the center’s Building B during the stronger economy in 2005, but agreed a year later to switch to Building C, which was then starting construction. The company moved in mid-2008.

A 2009 change to the lease slashed the rent from $25,000 a month to $11,300, court documents show. The rent rose over time in annual steps. The center also said it gave Bel Air a $70,000 allowance to finish its showroom, made a $50,000 contribution to the American Lighting Association to burnish its image within the sector and paid several top Bel Air customers at least $1,500 each to attend the markets.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at
toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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