The owner of Ontario's infamous Algo Centre Mall says he refused to repair what he called a “doomed” structure because it was a “black hole” unworthy of additional expense.
Robert Nazarian, 68, testified at a public inquiry into the mall's fatal collapse that he had had about $2.6 million from the sale of a property in 2009 but had used the money to buy another property instead of fixing the severely leaking rooftop parking deck.
“Algo Mall was a black hole,” Nazarian testified Thursday (July 25) during more than a week on the witness stand. “No matter how much money put in…that mall was doomed.”
Decades of Water Problems
The open-air rooftop parking deck had leaked for 25 years by the time Nazarian bought the Elliot Lake property in 2005. Water poured in on some mall tenants, including a library, triggering lawsuits against the property's owners. Engineers and waterproofing contractors had also noted the problem over the years.
Yet, Nazarian said, the recommended repairs were not worth the investment.
Elliot Lake Inquiry
"Algo Mall was a black hole," the mall's owner, Robert Nazarian, told the public inquiry. "No matter how much money put in...that mall was doomed."
On June 23, 2012, the parking deck caved in, killing two people.
Engineers and investigators have blamed the failure on a corroded structural weld. Investigators found severely corroded steel beams in critical condition and said that multiple areas of the structure were on the brink of failure when the collapse occurred.
Evidence and testimony regarding waterproofing, design and construction problems, as well as other factors, have come to light during the inquiry that began March 4.
'I Would Not Put My Life in It'
Numerous witnesses have testified that the rooftop garage deck lacked sufficient waterproofing. Several said they had recommended more extensive waterproofing to Nazarian over the years, but that he had repeatedly rejected the option as too expensive.
“Simply, I would not put my life in it, no," he testified last week. "I worked 42 years to gather some fund for my family. I’m not going to put everything in this building and…everything goes down the drain.”
Nazarian’s testimony, which began last Tuesday (July 22), previously focused on his inability to raise funds needed to fix the mall’s roof, according to local reports, citing the inquiry.
Grant Plan Unsuccessful
For example, he testified about a grant plan hatched by a close friend, Alex Sennett, who set up a contracting company called Empire Roofing and Restoration. The specific type of grant was unclear from a review of the testimony.
“Sennett, who had never done any contracting, then signed six-figure contracts with Nazarian’s company, Eastwood Mall, to do roofing restoration work,” the National Post reported.
NORR Report / Ontario Provincial Police
The mall in Elliot Lake, Ontario, collapsed in June 2012, killing two people.
Sennett then used the contracts to attempt to get a grant, which he then reportedly would have used to hire an actual contractor.
Nazarian also said that his mortgage with the Royal Bank was being threatened over the mall’s dilapidated condition, according to the report. The bank had been demanding immediate corrective action at a cost of about $3 million, he said.
While Sennett was trying to obtain a grant, Nazarian said, he paid Empire for work that was performed by another contractor, Glen Day, to make Empire look “active.” Empire then gave the money to Day, the report said.
Nazarian said his attorney later advised him to give up on Sennett’s plan. No grant was obtained.
Moreover, during his fourth day of testimony Friday (July 26), Nazarian admitted that he failed for years to comply with fire regulations.
Due to the leaking roof, any new fireproofing would have washed away, he said.
“We were trying to cut corner; it was management decision,” he said, according to CTV News.
Nazarian, who immigrated to Canada from Iran in the early 1980s, bought the Algo Centre Mall in 2005 for $6.2 million.
He testified that he had not been advised of the mall's longstanding leakage problems at the time of purchase and contemplated legal action against the previous owner, Elliot Lake Retirement Living, according to various reports.
He said a local lawyer had advised him against suing.
"It was my nightmare from the first day I bought the mall," said Nazarian.
Ontario Provincial Police continue to investigate the collapse, to determine if any criminal charges should be brought against those involved, reports say.