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Summit Place owners get 30 days to secure decrepit mall

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Waterford Township — Owners of the condemned, long-shuttered Summit Place Mall were given 30 days Wednesday to address code violations — from broken doors and windows to open manholes — officials said pose a threat to the public.

After listening to five hours of testimony, Richard E. Rassel, an attorney for California-based S.D. Capital, initially asked for a 270-day adjournment of the demolition hearing to give his clients time to review and respond to concerns.

Township inspectors and officials took turns outlining December 2014 findings at the mall, which some said held so many hazards it was a wonder no one has died inside the building.

“I’m deathly afraid of anyone getting inside this building — we don’t want to carry them out,” hearing officer Walter Pytiak told Rassel, in denying his lengthy adjournment request.

Pytiak said township inspectors would revisit the site over the next 30 days to make sure “anything that can expose the public to harm is to be removed.” Pytiak said that would include crumbling brick or wall facing.

The hearing will continue June 14.

Angry residents, such as Sharon Thomas, said they were “disgusted” and tired of looking at the boarded-up 1.7 million-square-foot building and 70-acre site at Telegraph and Elizabeth Lake.

“The building is unsafe and can’t be rehabilitated,” said Gary Wall, also the township’s supervisor.

Wall and more than 100 others in the township auditorium heard testimony and viewed photos of a collapsing, leaking roof; a flooded basement; an inoperable fire suppression system and exposed high-voltage electrical boxes and transformers near standing, stagnant water. They heard how most exit doors are spot-welded shut, bolted, padlocked or tied with cable.

Attendees also learned copper and metal scrappers and thieves have looted or stripped much of the electrical wiring and while there is electricity running to the building, none of its lights — including emergency fire exit signs — are functioning and there is not one working fire alarm.

Many complained the mall makes the township “look poor.”

“I was in Germany and saw a building that was 300 years old and it looked better than the mall,” resident Ken Van Horn said.

Officials voiced frustration at more than three years of “working diligently” with owners who have repeatedly indicated they had potential buyers for the property, but never delivered.

Some residents, including township trustee Anthony Bartolotta — who owns a car wash across from the mall — said they have seen young people, including skateboarders, wandering around outside the building, likely looking for a way inside.

Police reported finding evidence of break-ins and vandalism — until, like the fire department — they decided it was just too unsafe for officers to venture inside the building “unless they were certain a child was inside,” Deputy Chief Jeff James said.

The mall was condemned in December 2014 after a visit by township inspectors, including the building, fire and police departments, determined it was unsafe and unfit for human habitation.

If demolished, it would be a sad end to a former popular shopping destination, formerly known as the Pontiac Mall even though it was in Waterford Township. It opened in 1963 and once boasted 200 tenants and six anchor stores, including several major department stores, a movie theater, restaurants, a food court and specialty businesses.

But time, smaller strip malls and shopping trends took a toll on the mall.

The mall closed in September 2009, leaving only two anchor stores, Macy’s and J.C. Penney, which shut down in 2010. Finally, a Sears store, in a separate building on the property, closed in 2014.

Cost of demolition is pegged at more than $4.1 million, a fraction of what city engineers estimated it would cost to rehab the mold-infested mall, which has a land market value of $3.7 million.

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