Optimism builds for mall sale

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com
Surry County Building Codes Administrator Brandon Hawks is shown at last Thursday night’s meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, when ongoing building-related problems at Mayberry Mall were discussed. -

Some positive signs have emerged in recent days indicating that the sale of Mayberry Mall could indeed become a reality, after that possibility was divulged last Thursday night during a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting.

“I think it’s pointed in the right direction,” County Attorney Ed Woltz said Tuesday. “I got a call from a lawyer in Cleveland yesterday (Monday),” Woltz added.

“He was telling me there is a realistic possibility the mall will be sold.” Woltz said the Ohio lawyer initiated the contact with him based on discussions with the New York owner of the shopping center.

As the county government attorney, Woltz has been involved with the situation along with Surry Building Codes Administrator Brandon Hawks, who said Tuesday he had delayed enforcement action against present mall owner Mike Kohan while awaiting “hard” documentation regarding the sale.

That includes filing a misdemeanor violation against Kohan regarding his failure to comply with a county order calling for mall repairs and not meeting a Friday afternoon deadline for placing money into an escrow account to pay for the work.

“I have not gone to the magistrate’s office yet to file the charge,” Hawks said Tuesday.

During the city commissioners’ meeting last Thursday, Hawks said the situation as it existed then — before the possibility of the sale was disclosed — basically had come to a head with Kohan.

The mall building on U.S. 52-North, with the exception of the Belk department store there which is separately owned and occupies a freestanding structure, was declared unsafe earlier this year.

A leaky roof has caused problems in the section formerly occupied by a Kmart store that closed, along with other parts of the building. Rust damage in the upper portion has created a potential for collapses and there is also a hazard with ceiling tiles deteriorating and falling. Additionally, rain water entering the structure through the faulty roof has been linked to the presence of mold, posing an environmental risk to occupants.

Kohan, of Great Neck, New York, has failed to comply with county directives to make repairs and also told Hawks last Wednesday that he lacked the $1 million required for the escrow account. The county demanded that as a good-faith payment toward a total repair bill of about $1.5 million to forestall the mall’s closure as a public health threat.

When it appeared that Kohan would not be complying, Hawks appeared before the Mount Airy commissioners on Thursday due to the city having ultimate responsibility for dealing with the problems at the mall.

Mount Airy contracts with the county to handle inspections of commercial buildings within the municipality, but is the final authority in the matter rather than the county government.

“The decision-making body is the city commissioners,” Woltz said.

Based on Thursday’s meeting when city officials were briefed by Hawks, those decisions could include closing the mall or having it repaired or demolished at municipal expense and then trying to recoup that cost via a lien against the property.

Hanging in the balance is the future of nearly 20 stores at Mayberry Mall which employ around 100 people.

No “firm deadline”

After Hawks spoke at the meeting — also attended by some mall merchants — local Realtor Mark Rogers, who had been sitting quietly in the audience up to that point, announced the mall’s possible sale to a Midwest-based company.

Rogers cited negotiations that had been ongoing since February, initially involving the former Kmart space, but later encompassing the remainder of the shopping center.

In his building-inspection role as an agent for the city in addition to his functions with county government, Hawks remains in a position to make sure applicable statutes are obeyed to protect the public.

Hawks indicated Tuesday that he was trying to pinpoint where the possible sale plans are at this point.

“Right now, I am awaiting some conversations with attorney (Hugh) Campbell (the city attorney) and the attorneys for both the buyer and seller,” the building codes administrator said, in order to establish some timelines for the transaction.

Hawks does not have a definite time frame regarding that expectation.

“I would like to see some hard documents within a week to 10 days, but I don’t have a firm deadline to speak of,” he said.

“The owner of the mall said I would have a letter of intent today (Tuesday),” Hawks added.

He said he would wait to see that document before going to the magistrate’s office.

Surry County Building Codes Administrator Brandon Hawks is shown at last Thursday night’s meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, when ongoing building-related problems at Mayberry Mall were discussed.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/web1_Maul-this.jpgSurry County Building Codes Administrator Brandon Hawks is shown at last Thursday night’s meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, when ongoing building-related problems at Mayberry Mall were discussed.

By Tom Joyce

tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.