People want to get as many glimpses as they can inside the abandoned Rolling Acres Mall as they stroll down memory lane.
But Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan on Friday issued a statement reiterating that while he understands people want the city to offer tours, that won’t be happening. The city has secured the building.
Horrigan discouraged vandals, thrill-seekers and the purely curious from trying to enter the premises. YouTube videos and photos on the internet have shown trespassers documenting the inside of the mall and riding mopeds.
“For everyone’s safety, I request that citizens stay clear of the area. Police will have an increased presence,” he said in a news release. Trespassers risk prosecution, the release said.
On June 24, the city of Akron became owner of the mall, which has been closed since 2008, after Summit County foreclosed on California-based Premier Ventures after eight years of legal maneuvering. Premier owed more than $1.3 million in back taxes and had not paid its taxes since purchasing the mall in 2010 from the previous owner, who was also behind on taxes.
The five former department stores are owned separately by private owners.
In his first tour of the abandoned mall on Wednesday, Horrigan said the “apocalyptic feel” confirmed the building cannot be rehabbed and needs to be demolished and the 54 acres redeveloped.
Vandals have long since stripped the mall of its heating and air conditioning units and other materials of value — like the railings protecting people from falling from the second floor. Debris — from abandoned boxes to shards of glass and growing trees and algae — litters the mall. Electricity was turned off in 2008, and a man was electrocuted in 2011 when he tried to steal copper.
Wednesday’s Beacon Journal story and exclusive video footage and photos inside the mall during the mayor’s first visit have been popular with people reminiscing about their Rolling Acres experiences. It had 150,000 page views online, and the video has nearly 7,400 views. Another video of more footage from the visit can be viewed online with this story.
There may be a glimmer of hope that some things inside the mall could be salvaged — at least two people hope so.
Kurtiss Hare, executive director of Nightlight Cinema, is hoping the long-abandoned mall movie theater has equipment he can use at his downtown Akron theater. Steve Kelleher, president of the Barberton Historical Society, has asked city officials to look for a mural of a Barberton barn.
Hare used Twitter on Thursday evening to ask the Beacon Journal whom to contact to see if the movie theater had anything salvageable.
When tagged on the response by the Beacon Journal, Horrigan himself replied.
“Having been there my best guess is maybe seats??” Horrigan answered via Twitter, and encouraged Hare to contact his office next week. In a follow-up tweet, Horrigan acknowledged there may be other items, as well. Also via Twitter, the new mayor reconnected with a former student who read the story about the mall late Wednesday night and asked if Horrigan had been his history teacher. (Horrigan taught at St. Vincent-St. Mary and Stow from 1997 to 2006.)
Akron spokeswoman Christine Curry on Friday confirmed that while a staffer is assigned to the city’s @AkronOhioMayor Twitter account, the mayor monitors that as well as Facebook and will occasionally answer himself and sign “DH” for his initials.
Hare said he’s hopeful the theater seats, screen or projector equipment might be salvageable. The seats are still intact but have been sitting in a dark and musty area for more than a decade.
“It’s a strange mixture of hope and rubbernecking curiosity that’s driving me,” he said. “In our current space, we don’t have room for a working 35-millimeter projector, but it’s quite an asset for a movie exhibitor to have these days. If it winds up working out, I will try pretty hard to turn it into something,” he said.
The original movie theater closed in the early 1990s in the aftermath of riots and gunshots during a mini-riot in 1991 at a showing of New Jack City. Another group reopened the theater in 2000, but it only lasted a few years.
Historian Kelleher is hoping a large photo mural of Barberton Founder O.C. Barber’s Barn No. 1 is still intact in a former bank right inside the main entrance to the mall. Kelleher said the other historical murals of Barberton were saved before the mall closed.
Service Director John Moore told Kelleher that city officials would look to see if the mural was still there. Curry said there is no update yet.
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.