The long-vacant Rolling Acres Mall is now owned by the city of Akron — much quicker than anticipated.
Last week, the former mall failed to garner any bids in its second and final sheriff’s sale. Summit County Fiscal Officer Kristen Scalise’s office has been trying to foreclose on the property owner, a California firm, since 2008, for more than $1.3 million in back taxes.
When there were no bids June 21, Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Regina Van Vorous filed the order of forfeiture and the paperwork to transfer the deed to Akron.
Newly appointed Summit County Common Pleas Judge Scot Stevenson approved the order on Wednesday and the deed to the city was filed on Friday, Van Vorous said. She had estimated the transfer would take through July to complete.
All back taxes have been cleared, she said.
A phone message left with former mall owner Premier Ventures was not returned.
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said while the transfer happened quickly and early in his new administration, “it is a long time coming” for the community, which has seen the deterioration of the once bustling mall.
The city’s first role will be to secure the property and likely demolish it.
“We are working on a long-term plan of getting that structure down and making it safe and looking at what’s the best use for that. That involves a longer discussion with the planning department and we’ve had some internal discussions,” Horrigan said.
The city will look at all possibilities for redevelopment, he said.
“We’re not developers. Part of our role is … to take opportunities like this and be able to pass them along to spur development of some sort,” he said.
The mayor took a drive around the perimeter of the former mall last Friday — his first in about 10 years.
“Once you saw so much life into an area and now it’s not there. But it’s also an opportunity. You don’t get this many large plots or lots of land to think about or do something with. There’s a lot of opportunity to think about what’s the best fit,” he said.
The parcel is located next to Barberton, with good highway access.
But there are several challenges with redevelopment of the mall, which closed in 2008 when electricity was about to be turned off for nonpayment. A man died in 2011 when he attempted to steal copper wiring.
YouTube videos show vandals and thrill-seekers riding mopeds inside amid broken glass and second-floor areas with no railings.
The five former department stores attached to the mall are owned separately by private owners.
The city has not reached out to those owners but will be contacting them, Horrigan said.
When asked whether there’s a concern about demolishing the inside of the mall, which the city owns, while it is still attached to other structures, Horrigan said, “Quite frankly, we just took down Stage Left, so we have ample evidence we could do it.”
He was referring to the demolition last month of the empty building next to the Akron Civic Theatre to make room for the city’s sewer project and add to the Lock 3 and Lock 4 areas of downtown.
Horrigan said he didn’t have specific details but confirmed that there have been some interested parties contacting the city about potential redevelopment.
A representative of a group of investors from China said he would be traveling to Akron in August to meet with city officials and tour the facility, which could be developed into a light manufacturing hub. He has been in contact with both Van Vorous and city officials.
On Tuesday — the morning of the sheriff’s sale — the county received notice that the California mall owner had transferred a mortgage on the mall to Southland Solutions LLC of Paramount, Calif. That firm filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Van Vorous, the county’s lawyer, said last week and again on Monday that she did not think the bankruptcy could stop the transfer to the city.
“I suppose they can try. Do I think they can stop it? No, there’s not much they can do,” she said.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty