The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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April 18, 2014

Church says blaming Conneaut for plaza’s problems unfair

CONNEAUT — A partner in the company that owns the Gateway Plaza shopping center continues to take the city to task, alleging help promised the property-owner never materialized.

In an email, Kimberlee Gerston, a partner in Emster Properties in Sherman Oaks, Calif., says the city never delivered on signs the owner requested on Interstate 90 to alert motorists “that a town actually exists and that it was on the lake.”

“But to this day we are still waiting for those signs,” Gerston wrote.

The city also did not react to requests for “tax concessions to draw new tenants to the area,” Gerston said in the email. “We were met with road block after road block so we finally gave up on expecting the city’s assistance,” she said.

Gerston’s comments were contained in a message that provided updates on the roof problem that caused Kmart to vacate the plaza after more than 32 years. The store plans to close its doors in early June, costing the area 43 jobs.

In the message, Gerston said the roof sustained a 100-foot crack from the weight of snow and ice. The crack formed despite constant snow shoveling of the roof, she said.

“We are diligently fighting with our insurance carrier who denied our claim over damage done to the Kmart roof,” Gerston said. “We are not giving up on this fight.”

City Council President Nicholas Church, who took office at the start of the year, said Friday he does not know the history of communication between City Hall and the plaza owner. Church is growing tired of the owner’s criticism of the city while not accepting any responsibility.

“They can take all the potshots they want,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what deals were made or what the city tried to do. They are not taking care of the roof. They are using us as the excuse for Kmart leaving.

“They don’t like to look in the mirror,” Church said.

Roof leaks that developed at the start of the year in the Kmart portion of the plaza expanded over the weeks. Plastic sheets attached to the ceiling to protect merchandise and patrons from water ran afoul of the city and county inspectors who said the plastic was flammable and — as hung — covered some sprinkler heads. In early April, Kmart announced it would close the store after a few weeks of sales.

In her message, Gerston said the owner has struggled to keep the plaza alive during the economic downturn. “We have had several national and local commercial real estate agents representing us over the years in acquiring new tenants, but the area is so depressed that we have had zero interest,” she wrote.

Church said that’s puzzling, since the only vacancy in the plaza is where a CVS Pharmacy did business before relocating to a new building in town a few years ago. A big store that once held a Giant Eagle supermarket is being used as a warehouse for an area industry.

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