The fallen ceiling tiles, water damage, broken windows and graffiti that plague the former Kmart building on Glacier Highway are being taken care of, or so the city hopes, said Peter Freer, Juneau's planning supervisor.
"We became concerned about the building so we gained access and we did an inspection, or really a walk-through," said Freer. "We brought our concerns to (the building managers') attention, and they are listening and doing work on the building."
Freer, Warren Van Sickle of the city Water Utility Division, city Fire Marshal Rich Etheridge and city building official Chris Roust took part in the Jan. 7 inspection.
"At least four of the water lines froze and broke, and they had three inches of standing water throughout the building," said Etheridge.
Some of the ceiling tiles fell after they became saturated with water when pipes under the roof froze and broke.
Kmart managers intended to meet with city officials before closing the building last April, to ensure the building was secure and city officials had keys to the building, Etheridge said. That meeting never happened.
According to the city assessor's office, the Wilmington Trust Co. of Delaware holds the deed for the Kmart building, which Kmart closed last April.
But Melody Johnson, a spokeswoman for Wilmington Trust, said it serves as a trustee for the building. She wouldn't disclose the building's owner.
Last week, Wilmington Trust made good on a three-month overdue water bill that was in the hundreds of dollars, said City Manager Rod Swope.
The company has promised that about $100,000 on overdue property taxes, interest and penalties is on its way to city coffers, he said.
Verizon Capital Corp., a financing subsidiary of Verizon Communications, has been working with the city to take care of the building's structural problems, said Swope. He is uncertain of the connection between Verizon Capital and Wilmington Trust.
The Kmart Corp. and Verizon Capital did not return calls from the Empire. Kimco Realty, which handles real estate transactions for Kmart, also did not return calls to the Empire.
Juneau joins many cities around the country dealing with large buildings left empty when a retail store closes, said Jim Schwab, a senior research associate with the American Planning Association, a professional organization for city planners.
"The temptation to walk away from (the building) is considerable," Schwab said. "... There can be a number of reasons why they don't want to be bothered. One is that some of these places aren't built to last. They have a certain time frame in which they're intended to be operated, 10 years or so."
Competition among retailers also may leave the building empty, Schwab said. If Kmart owns the building and has hired Wilmington Trust to manage it, Kmart may not want another large retail store to operate in the building.
"They'd rather let it sit empty than lease it to one of their competitors," Schwab said, speculatively. "They don't want to make it easy for them."
Verizon Capital contracted with Knightwatch Security in May to check on the building twice nightly. Verizon also has contracted to have the graffiti on the outside of the building removed, said Jim Brogdon, operations manager for Knightwatch.
Until another tenant is found for the building, the owner has two choices, said Freer.
The owner can secure the building completely, which includes removing combustible objects, shutting off water and electricity, and securing windows and doors. Or it can keep the building operational, which would require water and heat to remain on and regular security checks, Freer said.
Verizon Capital has chosen to get the sprinkler system back online and return the building to its operational state, said Etheridge.
"When they complete the work, they're going to call us and we'll do another inspection then," Etheridge said.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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