Now that the Imperial Mall is permanently closed, building owner Namdar Realty Group must adhere to the International Fire Code or facing a growing list of fines from the city of Hastings.
Due to the potential of water freezing in pipes during the winter, Troy Vorderstrasse, fire prevention officer for Hastings Fire and Rescue, said the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office has the authority to allow Namdar to drain the sprinkler system.
However, the system still has to be maintained to the point the fire department could hook up to the system put water through the pipes in an emergency.
“The system still has to be operational,” Vorderstrasse said. “They’re saying it just doesn’t have to have water to it.”
The city’s development services department had a list of building code violations for the mall when the building was open to the public. Now that the building is closed the fire code comes into play.
All of the doors and windows, as well as roof access, will be locked and secured.
According to the fire code, persons owning or in charge or control of a vacant building or portion thereof, shall remove all accumulations of combustible materials, flammable or combustible waste or rubbish and shall securely lock or otherwise secure doors, windows and other openings to prevent entry by unauthorized persons. The premises shall be maintained clear of waste or hazardous materials.
The city is sending notification of the requirements to Namdar.
“If Namdar complies with it we’ll have a minimum amount of opportunities for hopefully vandalism or anything else to occur,” city administrator Dave Ptak said.
The parking lot will continue to remain open to the public. If Namdar posts no trespassing signs, the police department could then issue citations if patroling officers found anyone on the premises they.
Ptak said because the city hasn’t dealt with anything like this before it’ll take some time to see if Namdar complies.
“If they do not then we’ll just have to figure out a way ahead,” he said.
He expects the Fire Marshal’s Office will give Namdar time to comply.
“That’s an awfully big building and to do it in a day would be impossible,” Ptak said.
The Fire Marshal’s Office still has jurisdiction over the building, but Vorderstrasse and the fire department will continue to work with the Fire Marshal’s office.
“We turn around and pick up this end of it as far as the local jurisdiction saying ‘we want fire precautions taken for this,’ ” Vorderstrasse said. “It starts to involve us even more because the Marshals don’t go to put the fire out. The Marshal’s office doesn’t have to police the area to make sure people aren’t vandalizing stuff.”
Even though the building closed to the public on May 31, Napoli’s restaurant and Lifehouse Church has a couple weeks to remove their possessions.
Vandals beware, police, development services and fire personnel will continue to patrol the outside of the building.
The mall will still be subject to the city’s fire and property maintenance codes.
For instance, Namdar is still responsible for having the grass around the edge of the parking lot mowed.
The city could prosecute Namdar for violations of both codes, with each and every day a violation would exist, being a separate offense punishable by a fine of $100 per offense per day.
“We haven’t gone that way in the past for any of the building code violations or anything that led up to this, but I suppose that is one of the things the mayor and council would have to consider for the new city attorney,” Ptak said.
Namdar has incentive to maintain the property.
“It doesn’t take long to rack up a lot of potential fines and court costs. In a typical 30-day month at $100 per day that’s $3,000,” Ptak said. “You look at that over a year that’s $36,000 per violation.”
There are multiple violations there.
“I think what we’d want to do is take our direction from the mayor and council as far as how they wanted us to proceed,” Ptak said. “Obviously we want to make sure, from a fire standpoint, that we can secure mall buildings because we don’t want to risk any of our fire fighters going in there not knowing what’s there.”
Ptak, who has served as city attorney since November 2013, and continued those duties since assuming the city administrator role a month ago, is dealing with more than 15 property maintenance violation cases in Adams County Court. New city attorney Clint Schukei starts Monday.
City code does not directly address vacant properties.
The legislature, last year, gave cities authority to adopt some vacant property regulations.
“I think the thing is is there’s a lot of expense associated with code enforcement that we have not budgeted for. We basically have to expend the funds to enforce the codes and then assess the property in the hopes of getting it back or possibly later having to foreclose on the property and have it sold to recover our money,” Ptak said. “The mall is probably the most obvious example of vacant property, but unfortunately we have lots of them in Hastings. We don’t want to be selectively enforceable either. When we have these codes, we want to be able to enforce them.”
Mayor Corey Stutte doesn’t like the idea of the city or Community Redevelopment Authority acquiring a building that would be demolished or would take millions of dollars to redevelop.
“Right now there’s no plan on what that property would be,” he said. “It would really come down to, hopefully the private sector, stepping in and doing something with it.”