Tenant dispute imperils Fields Corner mall plan renovations

Plans to bring A.J. Wright to the Fields Corner Mall are imperiled this week because a clause in their lease for space at the mall would allow them to walk away if renovations do not begin on the site by June 30. Work was scheduled to begin on the mall earlier this month, but the refusal of existing tenant, Bd's, a discount store, to leave the site has delayed the start of renovations.

"The problem is that if we don't start construction by the end of June, we won't be able to get A.J. Wright in by Christmas time," said Cifrino. As a consequence, A.J. Wright would be allowed to exit its agreement to take over a portion of the space currently occupied by Bd's.

According to Tom Cifrino, whose family owns the mall, Bd's has been a tenant-at-will in the site since March 31, 2005. In April of this year, he says he notified the discount store that he would not be renewing their lease, and provided Arthur Tuffeha, whose company Jerusalem Trading owns Bd's, with more than the legally required 30 days notice to vacate their space by June 1.

That date came and went, but Bd's remained at the site. Cifrino has since initiated legal action to remove Bd's from the site.

In a phone interview this week, Tuffeha did not dispute that he was provided more than 30 days' notice by Cifrino to leave the site, but said that he needs up to a year to move and find a new site for his store.

Tuffeha's attorney, John McLaughlin, said that his client's claim to the site is two-pronged. Tuffeha claims that he had a verbal agreement with Cifrino that would have afforded him six months' time to vacate the site. Furthermore, McLaughlin stated that a clause in the expired lease would also give Bd's six months to move out of Fields Corner. McLaughlin will argue that the lease still governed the relationship between mall ownership and Bd's.

"If a lease expires and the same parties continue a tenancy-at-will on the same terms, the law says that the lease still governs," said McLaughlin.

Tuffeha is actively looking for a new site for his store, and his attorney spoke specifically of sites in Roslindale and Attleboro. He said that he needs much more time to fully vacate the Fields Corner store.

"I need at least - to move out with all the fixtures and all the merchandise I have and to find another location and to find the right stuff - I need at least [one] year," said Tuffeha.

He said that ideally he'd like to stay in his Fields Corner location and added that he offered Cifrino significantly more money than A.J. Wright did for the space, and was turned down. Now, he said, he is resolved that he will have to leave; the only question is how long he will have to do so.

A hearing between the parties is scheduled for today in which McLaughlin expects a trial date will be set.