The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 16, 2014

Council boss hints plaza may be saved in Conneaut

CONNEAUT — City Council seems resigned to the departure of Kmart from Conneaut, but the group’s leader says there’s a chance repairs will be made to the leaky roof the retailer has blamed for the abrupt exit.

Council President Nicholas Church, at Monday’s regular meeting, hinted some work may be ahead for the section of the Gateway Plaza shopping center that contains Kmart. “Things are brewing behind the scenes,” he said.

Church didn’t elaborate. “I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up,” he said.

At the start of the month, Kmart said it was pulling out of town after more than 32 years because of widespread roof leaks. The announcement came soon after city and county inspectors raised objections to the plastic sheeting employees used to protect shoppers and merchandise from falling water. The type of plastic is flammable and some of it covered sprinkler heads, inspectors said.

The Conneaut Fire Department issued citations against the plaza owner, Emster Retail Properties of Sherman Oaks, Calif. The citations mean the store cannot be leased or occupied until the violations are corrected.

Emster representative David Kinzie said last week the owner wants to make repairs because an empty store doesn’t make money. The roof over Kmart would cost about $400,000 to fix, he said. The owner’s attorneys are negotiating with the insurance carrier on a settlement, Kinzie said at the time. Insurance money is needed to make the repairs happen, he said.

Council, at Monday’s meeting, approved a resolution in support of Kmart. The document stated the store is a “vital part of the community” that has made “a significant impact.” The resolution also urged the owner to make repairs so the plaza can remain “viable.”

Ward 2 Councilman Phil Garcia took exception to some of Kinzie’s published remarks that indicated city leaders may not have done everything in their power to help the plaza owner, citing marketing and tax credits in particular.

Garcia said he thought the comments were unfair.

“I think we took a hit on that,” he said. “If someone needs something, call us and we’ll see what we can do. Unfortunately, it puts the blame on us.”

Church said he was his understanding the store will need more than just roof repairs before it welcomes a new tenant. The store will need a good scrubbing to combat any mold that may have formed because of the roof leaks.

Only one storefront is presently empty in the plaza, which opened in 1981, Church said. A former supermarket on the south end is serving as a warehouse for an area industry, Kinzie said last week.

“All non-toxic (products),” he said.

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