A group of investors led by controversial developer Ira Smedra has snatched up a portion of the Valley Plaza shopping mall in North Hollywood, adding a new wrinkle to attempts to redevelop the 50-acre center property. Smedra, whose group closed escrow on a 3.6-acre parcel of land, said he has already secured a signed lease with a major theater chain and will build a multiplex with stadium seating on the site. He declined to name the chain. The move comes several months after the Community Redevelopment Agency entered an exclusive agreement with another developer, J.H. Snyder Co., to raze the dilapidated shopping center at Laurel Canyon and Victory boulevards, and build a major new project in its place. Smedra’s acquisition and apparent multiplex deal at least steals some thunder from the Snyder project, and possibly could complicate the efforts of Snyder and the CRA to assemble the larger parcel. “We’re drawing our plan and moving forward,” Smedra said. “It will be an entertainment-anchor project.” The CRA had stepped in to try and overhaul the mall last year after several years of vain efforts by private developers to acquire the site, which is owned by about 33 separate landlords. CRA’s plan was to use its powers of eminent domain, if necessary, to get the various owners to sell. Many of those owners had set asking prices well above market rates. But the agreement between the CRA and Snyder does not preclude Valley Plaza property owners from selling to any other interested buyer, and now Snyder and the CRA will have to negotiate with Smedra if they want to include his parcel in the project. Smedra’s project could also up the price that the CRA and Snyder would have to pay for other properties because any development would likely increase the value of the surrounding land. Smedra’s plans to develop a multiplex on the site also duplicates part of the project that Snyder had envisioned, which also included movie theaters. So if Smedra follows through on his plan, Snyder would likely need to rethink its proposed project. Officials at Snyder, which late last year acquired a nine-acre parcel in the mall, said Smedra’s acquisition would not affect their plans to move ahead with the redevelopment. “(Smedra) is a property owner just as all the others,” said Cliff Goldstein, partner at J.H. Snyder. “I’m not really worrying about it.” Goldstein said his employer has been negotiating for additional parcels ever since its original purchase, but he declined to provide details. Smedra’s acquisition includes the site of the former J.C. Penney store, a 98,000-square foot structure, and an adjacent single-story building of 14,000 square feet, along with a parking field behind the building, said Christopher Crocker, a broker who, along with Steve Weiss at Capital Commercial Real Estate/NAI, represented the seller in the transaction. The property had been owned by a private investment group that included members of the May family, founders of the original May Co. department store chain, Crocker said. Smedra’s Arba Group had first entered escrow on the property late in 1998, but the developer failed to close the deal at that time after several extensions. “The property was put back on the market and he (Smedra) put it in escrow a second time,” said Crocker. Smedra said he does not believe his plans will compete with Snyder’s project. “Would we be interested in expanding on the north side of Victory (where the bulk of Snyder’s project is targeted)? Yes,” he said. “But we see this (multiplex) as a freestanding project.” Smedra’s group has completed a site plan for the project and hopes to begin construction late this year. “We’re shooting for an opening no later than Thanksgiving 2001,” he said. Officials at the CRA had not been officially notified of the sale as of press time and said it was premature to comment. “We have an exclusive with J.H. Snyder to develop the site and we’ll continue to work through that process,” said David Stolzer, senior real estate development agent for the CRA.