A Wood County Common Pleas judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday directing the Woodville Mall in Northwood to be closed immediately because of structural problems that present safety hazards for customers and employees at the 42-year-old retail center.
The order by Judge Reeve Kelsey is to be executed on Saturday by Northwood police and Wood County sheriff's deputies. It does not apply to The Andersons General Store nor the Sears store, both of which are attached to the 778,000-square-foot mall but do not have the infrastructure problems plaguing the main portion of the retail center at 3725 Williston Rd.
Dennis Recker, Northwood city administrator, said sheriff's deputies are to notify the 12 tenants inside the mall to vacate, and Northwood police will obtain keys, seal access to the mall, and post signs indicating it is closed.
The Fox Theater inside the mall voluntarily closed Tuesday because of the structural hazards.
Brian Ballenger, Northwood city law director, and Paul Dobson, Wood County prosecutor filed a complaint Friday seeking the restraining order.
The complaint was filed on behalf of Northwood's building inspection department, the Northwood Fire Department, and the Wood County Health District.
During an inspection on Monday, Northwood officials and county inspectors found numerous problems, including large holes and collapsed areas in the roof, water leaking into public and nonpublic area of the mall, a partially nonfunctioning fire suppression and alarm system, no heat because of unpaid gas bills, and pervasive mold and mildew.
The lack of heat had prompted some of the store owners to use space heaters in their shops, which is an Ohio Fire Code violation.
Both Mr. Ballenger and Mr. Dobson said they regretted the timing of the closure a week before Christmas, which merchants depend heavily on for revenue, but said that the danger to the public took precedence.
"Closing businesses is never an agreeable task," Mr. Dobson said. "We are convinced that we are preventing the greater harm which would result from a structural failure or fire hazard with the public or shop owners inside."
Bob Falgout, whose family owns Hobby Outfitters in the mall, said the closure will hurt the business badly.
"It's probably the worst time possible for this to happen," Mr. Falgout said.
He said his family and other Woodville Mall store owners have been talking to officials at the Great Eastern Shopping Center at 2584 Woodville Rd.
But, he said, "we don't have anywhere to go yet. Leases don't get done in a day."
Another tenant, the Amish Country Store, has leased space at Great Eastern.
The restraining order only allows the mall to be closed for 14 days.
A hearing seeking a preliminary injunction to keep it closed beyond 14 days is scheduled for Dec. 28 before Judge Kelsey.
Northwood and Wood County officials said they have been working this year with the mall's owner, Mike Kohan, a real estate investor from Little Neck, N.Y., to correct the mall's problems.
Mr. Kohan has indicated that he does not have the money to make the needed repairs and upgrades to the roof and fire suppression system.
Mr. Kohan could not be reached for comment Friday.
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.