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Can it be fixed?

Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — The owner of the Northland Mall has submitted a plan in response to a certified letter sent that outlined unsafe conditions in the building. 

“Late Thursday afternoon we received a phone call from Mr. (Mike) Kohen, owner of the mall,” City Administrator Craig Clark said. “Friday, he submitted an email with what his plans were. He had until the 12th to submit a plan.”

A letter was sent to Kohen on March 10, outlining conditions in the mall. Items included in the letter were: roofing membrane failures and water intrusion, roof coverings are saturated with water, suspended ceiling systems are compromised, HVAC systems in public areas are non-functional and lack of ventilation, high level or humidity and bulk water entering the building may be creating an unhealthy environment.

“In the letter that we sent March 10, it indicated he had 30 days of the receipt of the letter and he received that on March 13,” said Brad Chapulis, director of community/economic development. “Thus, the April 12 deadline to respond. In the March 10 letter, he was given 30 days to respond and, on the last business day before the deadline, he’s provided us with a plan of action at how he was going to address the items that were outlined.”

The mall was on the agenda for Monday night’s council meeting, with the council slated to make a decision on whether to declare the building hazardous. It became an informational item for the members. Chapulis outlined the history, including the current work being done on the roof.

“When I hear a crew is coming to town and they take out a permit, that’s like putting a Band- Aid on the Titanic,” Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh said. “It’s a little Band-Aid and you have to fix a hole an iceberg put in.”

Oberloh said he was concerned about the safety of the people in the mall.

“We have people working in there, we have hazards, we have health issues with air quality, wet floors and things falling from the roof,” Oberloh said. “How much longer do we allow this to continue? I’m extremely disappointed that this half-page email you got from him suffices.”

Council member Mike Kuhle said the city needs to continue to pressure the owner.

“We need to get that place taken care of,” he said. “We are losing businesses. We need to keep putting the pressure on this.”

Chapulis said he was working with City Attorney Mark Shepherd to decide on the validity of Kohen’s plan.

“Under the advice of city attorney Shepherd, Mr. Kohen has done what was asked of him under the context of the letter of the law, and now it’s our responsibility to do due diligence to determine the validity behind his plan of action,” Chapulis said. “As we complete our due diligence, we will be providing council with an informational update to make them aware of the actions that have taken place since the writing of the case item. We are requesting them to table it until April 28 to allow us to complete our due diligence.”

In his email, Kohen addressed multiple areas. The first was the roof work.

“(I) will address the roof leaks in one section at (a) time until such time that all roof leaks are resolved,” Kohen wrote. “I estimate that the job will take 60 days to complete providing good weather conditions.”

He said ceiling tiles would be replaced once the roof work is completed. The HVAC systems will also be fixed once the roof project is finished.

In a response back to the email, Chapulis asked for names and contact information for those contracted to do the work on the mall.

“We want to make sure the work they are contracted for is in comparison to what the violations were outlined in the letter,” Chapulis said. “We just need to make sure what he has shared with us is valid. We’re exploring other ways to verify or assure that Mr. Kohen keeps his word.

“If we’re not comfortable after we do our due diligence, on the 28th we’ll ask the council to issue the order and we’ll continue that legal process,” he added.

Also included in the email was a plan for the former Kmart building. The city has hired a firm to assess the building and give a recommendation on whether it would be best to demolish or repair the building.

After being rescheduled, that assessment was slated for April 29.

Kohen said his demolition company will visit the mall regarding the Kmart building in the “next 10 days.” He has instructed representatives of the company to meet with the city. If the plan is approved, the demolition will commence.

“The Kmart facility — our order with the court allows us to do a structural assessment to determine whether repair or demolition is the most cost effective,” Clark said. “Certainly looking at the condition, we presume that’s demolition. His email is reassuring that he, at least to some extent, is recognizing that demolition is the right outcome on the Kmart facility.

“That’s a positive that he’s moving in that direction,” Clark continued. “We’re not going to stop until we get that either taken down or addressed in a final way.”

Clark said that while dealing with the mall in one way or another has been a process, the city intends to follow through until all of the unsafe conditions are mediated.

“While we’ve dealt with this for some time now as a (city), we have to go through the step-by-step procedures that are provided statutorily and through the courts,” Clark said. “It’s frustrating that it’s taking this long. But we have to continue on this track until we see it through to conclusion.”

In other business Monday night, the council approved the relocation of the city’s Japanese cannon to Memorial Auditorium. The plan is to place it by the flag pole in front of the new addition.

The council also approved the operation of a corn maze on the city property leased by Pat Haberman. It is located west of Highway 59 and south of 27th Street. Haberman said he plans to use about 10 acres for the maze.

“I’m going to farm it and cut out the maze,” Haberman said.

“I want to thank you for doing this because I think it’s going to be good for the community,” council member Rod Sankey said. “It’s going to bring a lot of happy children.”

Sanford Worthington CEO Mike Hammer gave an update on the hospital. It has been five years since Sanford purchased the hospital from the city.

“Growth has definitely been the theme,” Hammer said of the hospital’s last five years.

The council approved a mower for the airport, which would have a two-thirds state contribution for the equipment. It also approved the fees, permits and applications for private docks on public land. Jessica Arnt’s agreement to operate the Beach Nook was approved.

A special use permit was approved for the Worthington Christian Church for an addition.

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.