IN Judge Denies Emergency Demolition Request

Thu July 31, 2003 - Midwest Edition

FORT WAYNE, IN (AP) A judge denied a request for an emergency order to demolish a mostly deserted shopping mall that the city is trying to acquire for commercial redevelopment.

Southtown Mall does not pose an immediate danger to the public, Allen Superior Court Judge Nancy E. Boyer recently ruled.

The city sought the order earlier this month after two arsons at the 800,000-sq. ft. (74,322 sq m) mall. Officials said the building was unsafe and that the fires could have spread toxic asbestos fibers through the neighborhood if they had spread.

However, Roger Clark, an assistant building commissioner for the northeatern Indiana county, said the building was structurally sound overall, and a state environmental official said demolition could take months because of asbestos-removal requirements.

"To issue an order that cannot even be complied with, which is what this is, is difficult to enforce even if the court did determine there was an emergency situation,’ Boyer said.

The city filed legal action in March to acquire the Southtown property through eminent domain, but the case has been delayed by court filings. Steuben Circuit Judge Allen Wheat is scheduled to hear arguments Aug. 22.

Fort Wayne officials want to demolish the mall and redevelop the commercial property. The city’s tentative deal with developers calls for construction of a Menards store at the site by spring 2004.

The mall, which opened in 1969, had 20 to 25 tenants when it closed Feb. 1, soon after Sears announced it would close its anchor store there.