MANSFIELD — The City of Mansfield plans Tuesday to inspect the remaining portion of the West Park Shopping Center not already under a demolition order.
Community Development & Housing Director Adrian Ackerman said Friday the building and codes department would take a look at the eastern wing of the Park Avenue West strip mall.
“We are going to do an inspection on the units,” Ackerman said of the building.
The east wing is not physically connected to the rest of the shopping center, which has been condemned and is under current demolition orders.
There are still a few businesses operating in the wing, but some sites are now vacant.
“There are vacant units in the building that are not occupied and it does not appear (from the outside) that they are being maintained,” she said.
“We will go through the building, detail areas of concern and give the (owners) a chance to correct anything we find,” Ackerman said.
“We have concerns (the owners) will allow the occupied units to deteriorate,” she said.
It also seems to be a pattern for the owners, Namdar Realty Group in New York, which operates the West Park Shopping Center as West Mansfield Realty, LLC, according to a Sept. 10 story published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Pennsylvania newspaper reported Namdar has purchased more than 250 retail centers in 34 states in recent years.
According to the company’s website on Friday, Namdar owns 298 properties in 34 states with 64.9 million in total retail space.
But the company has a checkered past, the newspaper reported.
“At several malls the PG examined, Namdar has failed to maintain the buildings, leaving collapsed roofs, burst pipes and a litany of other concerns. In numerous towns, officials have served the company code violations, condemnation notices and demolition orders — but on many occasions the company either hasn’t responded or neglected to make repairs, records and interviews with officials show,” the Post-Gazette reported.
That reputation raises concerns for Mansfield officials, including Ackerman.
“They operate in so many cities in a similar fashion and they do not appear to be addressing those cities’ concerns in a timely fashion,” she said. “I hesitate to think it will be an easy road ahead. Time will tell.”
The scheduled inspection comes a week after the city Planning Commission met in executive session to discuss “imminent, potential litigation” regarding the largest portion of the old shopping center along the “Miracle Mile.”
That closed-door session came after city Law Director John Spon told commission members that attorneys for West Mansfield Realty Co., which owns the property, sent a letter threatening litigation against the city
The commission voted 5-2 on Aug. 18 to deny any further appeals by West Mansfield Realty Co., an LLC owned by Namdar Realty Group in New Jersey. Instead, the city plans to demolish the largest portion of the strip mall and large parking lot on its own.
The city would then likely invoice the company to cover the costs of the work to tear down the demolished property.
The vote on Aug. 18 prompted a quick response from Cincinnati attorney Sean Suder, representing the company during the meeting via Zoom.
“So we can maybe have a separate discussion with your law director. I do think, unfortunately, litigation is imminent,” Suder said.
The vote came at the end of a nearly-hour long meeting, during which Suder and Anthony Matinale, general counsel for Namdar, said they were prepared to demolish the building. Both participated in the meeting via Zoom.
But the two challenged the city’s legal authority to order anything done to the large blacktop parking lot and said it was not a part of the original demolition order nine months ago.
The Planning Commission decision to demolish the property on its own signaled a significant step in a process that began four years ago when the city’s Codes & Permits Department notified the company of violations on the property it purchased in 2015.
No actual demolition work has begun at the site as of Friday.
That back-and-forth between the city and the owners ratcheted up in November 2022 when the Planning Commission ordered West Mansfield Realty to tear down two-thirds of the vacant, decaying structure.
The demolition order issued in November 2022 noted several problems, including structural issues, a roof that was rotting and collapsing in places, cracked walls, severe mold, a failed HVAC system and a non-functioning sprinkler system.
The New York-based company appealed the decision and was granted a six-month extension to complete the work. The deadline was July 14 — yet the dilapidated strip of shops remains.
An “evidentiary hearing” was held before the Planning Commission on Aug. 8. During that meeting, Suder raised the issue of the parking lot demolition and the city’s requirement that it be landscaped with topsoil, grass seed and straw.
At the end of that meeting, members voted to give the company until Aug. 15 to produce a $50,000 appeal bond and also a performance bond that would cover the cost of the demolition and clean-up of the deteriorating property.
West Mansfield Realty did meet the deadline for the appeal bond, but did not submit the performance bond, according to city officials.
During the meeting Aug. 18 , Suder said the company could not post the performance bond because, ““We do not have clarity and I don’t think there is agreement on the scope of the demolition.”
Before and after the 5-2 commission vote, city Law Director John Spon counseled caution.
“If (West Mansfield) were to say today that they only need a few days to actually start the demolition of this structure, to not grant them a few days will accomplish nothing. In my opinion, it will not be in the best interest of the city because what it does is it will delay for two or three or four months the whole process,” Spon said in Agust.
“If they appeal it and they win the appeal, we have to start all over again. The other factor is that we’re talking about the expenditure of public dollars are PRIDE monies, which are paid by the hardworking citizens of Mansfield,” the law director said.