Owners of the Imperial Mall have another two weeks to fix code deficiencies, but half of the tenants are still leaving by the end of the month.
The Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office extended the deadline for Namdar Realty Group of Great Neck, New York, to make repairs to April 15. Friday had been the previous deadline to fix code deficiencies, which include replacing ceiling tiles and updating the sprinkler system and emergency lighting.
Alyssa Sanders, deputy state fire marshal and public information officer for the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office, said enough progress had been made to allow the mall to remain open to the public as work continues.
The Fire Marshal’s Office conducted its five-year inspection in January and found multiple code violations. Originally, fire marshals gave mall owners a deadline of Feb. 22 to fix the violations. The deadline now has been extended three times.
Tenants include Children’s Museum of Central Nebraska, CrossFit Ground Up, Lifehouse Church, Napoli’s Italian Restaurant, Oasis Outreach Church and Pizza Hut (located across the parking lot on the property).
Brett Mackey, pastor at Lifehouse Church, said church members have been helping fix some of the piping and replace ceiling tiles to help Namdar keep the building open. He said they will continue to work with the mall owners to stay in the building. He said the church’s mission is to build up people, not construct buildings.
“Until they tell us we can’t publicly meet here, we will continue,” he said.
Mackey said it would be an inconvenience to have to move but church leaders have made provisions in case the mall is closed to the public. They have looked at several options, including possibly holding services at the YMCA’s 18th Street location at 1220 W. 18th St.
“No matter where we go, if we continue to focus on our mission, we should be OK,” he said. “If God wants this to continue, he will provide.”
Staying open until April 15 is especially advantageous for Napoli’s Italian Restaurant, which has a couple of large catering jobs Saturday.
“As much as we can be open it’s good for us,” manager Tony Ragipi said.
He has been looking into future locations for his restaurant.
“Now we have to check the options for where we can go — downtown, Cimarron Plaza, other sites — just to see where we can squeeze,” he said. “We would like to stay in Hastings. We are going to start to check more places all the time until we find the place.”
Hastings has been good to Napoli’s, Ragipi said. So, the restaurant wants to continue serving the community.
“This is the whole reason we would like to stay, because the community likes us,” he said. “Customers like our food. For that reason we have a clientele, for that reason we have to be in Hastings. We just have to find a place.”
But half of the six tenants that started the year at the Imperial Mall are leaving.
Children’s Museum of Central Nebraska temporarily closed as of Friday as it moves to its new location in the lower level of Allen’s Shopping Center, 1115 W. Second St.
Deb Boesen, executive director for the museum, said the plan is to move everything over to the new space over the next two months and reopen on June 1.
Boesen said it also will be an opportunity to re-imagine the design of the museum and update exhibits.
The museum will fill a vacant area at Allen’s while connecting the museum with the family-friendly activities hosted by the grocery store.
“It’s going to be a great fit for both of us,” she said. “It’s going to be a better location for us. We’ll have more space where we’re moving as well.”
Boesen said members are going to help with the move, allowing her to focus her creative energy on figuring out the new layout for exhibits. She said all current members will have their memberships frozen for two months until the museum reopens so members don’t lose any time.
“Everybody’s pretty excited,” she said.
CrossFit Ground Up moved earlier in the week to three temporary locations. The main gym will be located at 1903 W. Second St. and the children’s classes will be held at the Hastings YMCA 16th Street location at 1430 W. 16th St.
Tiffani Arndt, co-owner of CrossFit, said they also are looking for office space for their nutrition center until their permanent location is ready.
“We are excited about the permanent location,” she said. “We’ll definitely keep people updated.”
Arndt said this has been the second time in 30 days they received notice of a pending closure.
“As a business, we can’t have them shut our doors,” she said. “For the best interests of our members, we decided to leave.”
While it is unfortunate to have to divide the business into three spaces for a time, Arndt said the state fire marshal has been more than accommodating through the process.
“I understand where the fire marshal is coming from,” she said. “They’re just trying to protect people.”
For Oasis Outreach Church, Sunday will mark its last service at the mall.
Pastor Chad Cassel said Oasis received a 30-day eviction notice on March 1. He said no reason was given but the notice referred to a clause in the lease allowing Namdar to terminate with a 30-day notice.
Cassel said the church temporarily will hold services at the C3 Hotel and Convention Center, 2205 Osborne Drive East, until other arrangements can be made.
He said most of the church’s belongings have been moved out except for chairs and a sound system. They have had two moving days so far and plan to finish on Sunday.
While he’s not sure why the church was evicted, he said he’s looking at it as an opportunity to trust his faith.
“I look at it as a promotion notice,” Cassel said. “No matter where we are in life, God always has something better.”
Mayor Corey Stutte said it’s frustrating for tenants to have to go through the uncertainty of their future.
“I’ve spoke several times this week with Lifehouse out there,” he said. “I know they’re frustrated and understandably so. We’re hoping for the best for them. We hope they will be able to find new locations if the mall is indeed shuttered, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
It’s sad time to think about the current state of the mall when considering its past, he said.
“I don’t know that you can consider it being a mall for quite a while now just because of the way things have evolved through ownership outside of Hastings,” Stutte said. “It’s very sad. I hate to see the tenants go through what they’re having to go through. I wish this was able to end on a better note both with a buyer that was local but this is one of those things that the private sector is going to have to figure out if there’s a need for this. So far we haven’t been successful lining up any sort of a deal with Namdar. To me it is very sad to see how this mall has evolved over time.”
The 37-year-old Stutte recalls a time when the mall was so bustling that shoppers had to park across Marian Road because the mall’s parking lot was full.
“When I was growing up downtown didn’t have a lot of shops in it and the mall was full,” he said. “Now you see downtown thriving and the mall is vacant mostly. Such a large property that people have so much attachments to when it comes to memories. Sitting there the way that it is it’s sad to see. I hope we’re able to find a good use for it sometime in the future. Hopefully it will come back to be something that will be a focal point in Hastings and people will be able to be proud of the project.”