New owner of Berkshire Mall misses first tax payment of fiscal year

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LANESBOROUGH — In late June, an Ohio businessman gladdened hearts in Town Hall here when he paid off nearly $1 million in property taxes owned by the Berkshire Mall.

Today, not so much.

Durga Property Holdings Inc. failed to pay the first quarterly installment on its taxes both to the town of Lanesborough and to the Baker Hill Road District.

"Negative," said Tax Collector Jodi Hollingsworth when asked if Durga was current with property taxes due Aug. 1. "It is two weeks after the due date."

The missed payment continues a pattern set by the previous mall owner, Mehran Kohansieh, who also goes by the name Mike Kohan and controls the Kohan Retail Investment Group based on Long Island, N.Y.

Hollingsworth said that Durga, which is owned by Vijaya Kumar Vemulapalli, owes the town $92,589.99, including interest as of Tuesday, for the Berkshire Mall property.

The company also owes about $125,000 to the Baker Hill Road District, which, by state law, has the power to levy taxes on the mall, in part to maintain the highway connecting Routes 7 and 8.

"Here we go down the same road again," said Mark Siegars, attorney for the Baker Hill Road District. "This is more of the same."

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Kohan, the previous owner of the mall, routinely failed to make quarterly payments. A year ago, he paid fiscal year 2018 taxes just before the town was prepared to seek to take the property. The Berkshire Mall closed in May, after a steady loss of retail stores. Regal Cinemas and Target continue to operate on properties owned separately.

In June, Vemulapalli appeared as a fresh face on the scene, paying the errant taxes and then purchasing the mall from Kohan for $1 million.

Vemulapalli tentatively was scheduled to meet at noon Wednesday in Town Hall with members of the Baker Hill Road District, at their regular meeting, according to Siegars.

Vemulapalli's purchase of the mall closed a chapter in which Kohan, whose company controls about two dozen financially beset malls across the U.S., tried to slow the flight of stores, and customers, from the Lanesborough property.

Kohan bought the Berkshire Mall in 2016 for $3.5 million, then saw a continuing departure of retailers, large and small.

In June, Vemulapalli came through with payments that cleared Kohan's tax debt. The Baker Hill Road District had taken steps to take ownership through the tax title process. The payment of taxes ended that process.

The district had been owed about $508,000 as of June, though that number continued to rise with interest charges. The town of Lanesborough had been owed more than $392,500, until Vemulapalli cleared the debt as the new owner of the mall.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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