A Cleveland-based company hopes its $300 million purchase of Salt Lake developer Hermes Associates Ltd. will give it a foothold in the growing retail market of the West.

Perry D. Grueber, vice president and investor relations director for Developers Diversified Realty Corp., said it announced May 20 that it had entered into an agreement to buy Hermes, with its nine shopping centers and eight additional expansion, development or redevelopment projects.The transaction should close by the middle of the summer, Grueber said Thursday, and Developers Diversified is eager to enter the Salt Lake market.

"We have been executing a strategy of expanding our presence in the Western United States over the last few years," he said. "We had entered into the process to bid on the Hermes portfolio, and we were chosen."

Hermes officials could not be reached for comment on the sale Thursday or Friday.

Hermes, which has operated in Utah for more than 40 years, has a strong presence along the Wasatch Front, with its Family Center malls in Ogden, Riverdale, Salt Lake City, Taylorsville, Midvale, Orem and Logan, Grueber said. It also has centers in Rapid City, S.D., and Las Vegas.

"(The Salt Lake) market is, for an outside group, more difficult than others to enter," Grueber said. "Purchasing high-quality assets gave us a great foray into the market. In addition to existing centers, they have a strong development pipeline in place, and we will complete those projects as well over the next few years."

Expansion projects are at the current malls in Taylorsville, Riverdale, Ogden, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, he said.

"From a public perception, there may be no activity going on in those projects, but expansion efforts are under way," Grueber said.

He said the company has new developments scheduled for Riverdale, Ogden and an area outside Boise.

Hermes has been at the center of some controversy lately. It sued Midvale over an annexation that drew its Fort Union Family Center into that city, and it has filed five lawsuits against Riverdale alleging that city officials conspired against the company and violated its property rights to hold up the proposed new development there.

Grueber said Developers Diversified did "thorough due diligence" on the Hermes projects and knew about those issues before agreeing to the purchase.

"These will now become projects that we own, so to the extent that there are issues associated with these projects, we will deal with them appropriately," he said.

Developers Diversified's agreement also gives it Hermes' corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City.

"Eventually, DDR will have an office presence in Salt Lake City," Grueber said. "We think that the staff of Hermes Associates have done an excellent job developing and operating these centers. We would hope to keep as much of that staff intact as we could."

Whether or not the local office will keep the Hermes name has yet to be decided, he said.

Developers Diversified has been in business for more than 30 years and is the nation's third-largest retail-oriented real estate investment trust, with about 35 million square feet of retail space in 150 shopping centers.

The company went public in 1993 and has a total market capitalization of about $1.4 billion, Grueber said.