The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 8, 2014

Owner regrets Kmart leaving

CONNEAUT — A representative for the Los Angeles-based company that owns the Gateway Plaza shopping center in Conneaut says he is sorry Kmart is closing its doors and is working with its insurance carrier to repair the roof leaks that prompted the retailer’s exit.

“The landlord absolutely regrets the store has to be closed and the subsequent (losses) that everyone involved are going to endure,” David Kinzie, Gateway property manager for Emster Retail Properties, said in an email message.

On Monday, Kinzie expanded on his comments, saying harsh weather created ice that caused heavy damage.

“The roof went crazy,” he said. “It destroyed the roof. Up until then it was fine.”

Citing the roof situation, Kmart announced last week the store would close in early June after more than 32 years at that location. The store employs 43 people.

Conneaut fire inspectors visited the store on March 28 after a complaint was made regarding the plastic sheets employees had installed on the roof to protect shoppers and merchandise from dripping water. The plastic was flammable and some was installed in a way that blocked sprinkler heads, firefighters said.

Two other businesses in the plaza have experienced leaks, too, but not to the extent of Kmart, Kinzie said.

Last week, Conneaut firefighters said a citation will be sent to Emster regarding the roof problem. The company cannot rent the space until repairs are made, fire officials said. A new roof was installed atop the old roof at the start of the millennium, Kinzie said.

Fixing the roof would cost an estimated $400,000, a huge expense at the moment, Kinzie said. “We don’t have those kinds of funds.”

Attorneys are working with the plaza’s insurance carrier, but the outcome is unsure — and so is the plaza’s future, Kinzie said.

“We don’t know where we’re going with it,” he said. “We’re in a state of flux.”

Kinzie said there’s no telling how long it will take to learn if insurance will cover the roof repair and save that portion of the plaza.

“We’re waiting for other people,” he said. “There’s a lot of frustration on our part.”

The company is also unhappy with the city, which over the years has promised to help find tenants but hasn’t delivered, Kinzie said. He also emphatically denied the owner has no interest in salvaging the plaza, which opened in 1981.

“We recently reduced the rent for Kmart to help them adjust to the challenging economy that your community and region has experienced over the last several years,” Kinzie said in the email. “However, despite all our efforts to keep the center operational, no one expected the damages from the devastating ‘polar vortex’ that swept down on us in February. This has virtually overwhelmed us. However, we are still working behind the scenes with our insurance company and reaching out to Kmart to reconsider their decision.”

 The plaza is a valued source of income, and shutting it down wouldn’t make economic sense, Kinzie said.

“We’re losing millions of dollars (in business),” he said. “We’re not in favor of closing.”

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