West Mifflin Borough Council is expected to take the next step toward condemning Century III Mall at its legislative meeting Tuesday.
The action is on the agenda for the 6:30 p.m. meeting at the borough building, according to Councilman Dan Davis, and it follows the public hearing last month that laid the groundwork for the action. West Mifflin residents can address the issue again at the session.
Since then, the borough took Century III Mall Pa. LLC and Moonbeam Capital Investments, the companies that own the property, before Magistrate Richard D. Olasz Jr. for ongoing issues at the site. This month he fined them more than $240,000 for violating West Mifflin ordinances on sanitation, unsafe structures, and weeds and high growth, according to the Tribune Review.
The companies had previously been fined $80,000 for poor maintenance of the property, which it appealed and still has not paid to the best of borough officials’ knowledge.
Mall management forced the few remaining tenants in the 1.3 million-square-foot structure to leave after a waterline break and flooding in 2018, and that same year it filed for bankruptcy. The last store at the mall with its own separate entrance to it, JCPenney, closed in 2020. The mall has had a skeletal staff and maintenance crew working there since, and despite boarding up the structure, multiple break-ins, waterline breaks, vandalism and a fire on April 11 have left it in a dilapidated condition.
At the June condemnation hearing, Shawl Pryor Sr., chief operating officer since 2015 for Century III Mall Pa. LLC and chief operating officer of Moonbeam Capital Investments, testified that his company had a number of potential buyers for the closed mall. He said a sale is under contract to a company he was not permitted to identify, and the purchase could happen in two months.
Borough officials have had no communication with Pryor or his company regarding this buyer, Davis said. Pryor did not respond to a request for more information on the pending sale and other questions regarding the property.
Also at the hearing, Pryor said Moonbeam had hired a security firm to patrol the property so it would have 24/7 coverage to help secure it.
Davis said the extra security probably has deterred trespassers on the site, but he has received reports that people are still getting in. What has made it quieter, he believes, is that in June borough police did track down and arrest three Columbus, Ohio, men via a posted YouTube video they created and charged them with trespassing at a hearing last month. That video also led them to a Clairton man inside the mall at the same time. Trespassing is a felony charge, he emphasized.
A teenager trespassing on the structure with several others fell through the roof on June 3 and was seriously injured.
Pryor said at the condemnation hearing that his company also has obtained bids to repair potholes on its private roadway that leads to businesses below it and access to routes 51 and 885, and that it is exploring erecting a fence all around the mall to keep trespassers out of it.
No word from him on either promise, Davis said, and with recent heavy rains, some of the potholes on the roadway are becoming craters.
“If they wanted to show a good faith effort, why not fix the potholes?” Davis said. “It would show the residents some good faith effort. People drive on that road. First responders have to use it, too. It would be a show of some goodwill on their end.”
Hot patch repairs to those potholes would be a cheap alternative to overhauling and updating the roadway, which he estimated would cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 to do it the right way.
The mall has barricaded all access to its property, and the road closures have caused traffic backups at the Route 51 intersection with that private roadway. Davis said the borough reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to adjust the traffic light times there to ease that congestion, and expects more information on that at Tuesday’s meeting.
If council approves the condemnation, the companies that own the mall could appeal and most likely will.
“That seems to be their protocol,” Davis said, pointing to Moonbeam’s track record at other malls it owns and has owned across the country. That would have to happen within 30 to 60 days.
“That’s the bad thing,” he said. “But [the vote] starts our process to move forward, and we can reach out to Allegheny County, the state, RIDC and so on for help. Again, we don’t want to demolish it. We don’t have the resources to do that demolition. It’s costs we shouldn’t [have to] bear.”
Estimates to demolish the mall have ranged from $10 million to $15 million.
Ironically, Davis was cleaning out his desk and found the business card Pryor gave him back when his company first bought the mall and Moonbeam presented to the borough its plans to bring businesses back. He said in a show of good faith the borough then held its annual community day there — in either 2014 and 2015; he couldn’t remember exactly when — on the Dick’s Sporting Goods side of the structure.
“Nothing happened,” he said.