After months of lawsuits, haggling and uncertainty over whether the South Towne Center in Sandy would continue in business, the deal to sell the mall to Zell/Merrill Lynch Real Estate Opportunity Partners Limited has been closed.

"We're looking forward to moving ahead with our plans for adding new and exciting merchants at South Towne," said Mark N. London, president of Equity Properties and Development Co. "Now that we own the center, our customers in Sandy and its surrounding communities will soon begin to see the changes we have in store for the project."The general partner of Zell/Merrill is an affiliate of Equity, a national shopping center owner, manager and redeveloper, which has been managing the center by court order since May. 15, 1988.

South Towne's leasing program will be managed by Richard Klock, regional vice president of leasing, based at the company's Hayward, Calif., regional office. Equity's staff is attempting to find another major department store to anchor one end of the mall.

Micheal Diffendal, Equity's senior vice president, believes the south end of Salt Lake Valley will continue to grow and the nearby residents will help boost South Towne's economic outlook.

ZCMI anchors one end of the mall that has 46 stores so far and 400,000 square feet of gross leasable space. Cineplex Odeon Corp. has announced plans to build a 10-theater complex at South Towne and it should be completed in 11 months.