White Lakes Mall fire causes demolition

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – Thursday marks a year since the White Lakes Mall was torched by three teenagers and the building has received a lot of activity and attention since.

At around 6:40 a.m., this Tuesday, December 29, 2020, a two-alarm fire was started in the White lakes shopping center. Crews worked for more than 10 hours to put out the fire that engulfed the building, but saved Mainline Printing.

“So our production manager called me at 6:30 am this morning and alerted me to some sort of situation going on across the mall,” said John Parker Jr., chief operator of General public printing.

Parker said he immediately feared for the safety of employees and equipment as the third shift ended at the north end of the mall as flames originated from the roof at the south end.

“It seemed like every vehicle and every firefighter was here and working around the clock to protect our facility and do their job. “

While much of the building was damaged by fire and water from the pipes, Mainline Printing suffered little disruption to first shift operations and only had to clean up a bit of water. The fire caused approximately $ 100,000 in damage to the building. Parts of the roof had collapsed and Topeka fireAlan Stahl said the flames spread to about a third of the mall before the blaze was put out.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years in the city and we’ve had a lot of fires, but this one really stands out with the building itself,” Stahl said.

Two days after the fire, on December 31, investigators reported that the mall was intentionally set on fire. 18-year-old Joel Sink and two other minors were enrolled in the Shawnee Co. for arson, criminal damage to property and criminal trespass.

About a month later, on January 25, 2021, new information in an affidavit published to 13 NEWS indicated a Snapchat video recorded the start of the fire. An anonymous tip was sent about the video, which led to the three arrests.

Sink confessed that he and two miners tagged the property and started the fire. He said they had tried to put out the flames, but admitted there was still the smell of a burning fire when they left.

In October, it was reported that Sink had agreed to create a diversion, which meant he would not serve any time for the fire he helped start in the mall.

At the time of the fire, Topeka Fire Marshal Todd Harrison said Mainline Printing was the only company left in the mall, which once had a number of businesses in the 1960s, 70s and 80s The stores included in the mall’s heyday include JC Penney, Walgreens, Woolworths, Falley’s Market, Sears, Robinson’s Shoes, and various clothing stores and boutiques.

However, when West Ridge Mall opened in 1988, most of these businesses moved in.

White Lakes Mall adopted its name from the namesake of the land on which it sits, White Lakes Country Club. It was built in the early 1960s and opened in 1964 for a total of $ 8 million. Eventually, the mall was renamed White Lakes Center in an effort to shift from retail to commercial activity.

After the fire, Emily Cowan, founder of Kansas abandoned, said she hoped the mall would rise from its ashes.

“It has a personal connection to my family because my aunt and uncle met there in 1983,” Cowan said. “He stopped by with friends and he was supposed to meet other friends, and they were wrong [sic] my aunt’s car for their friends and they started talking and the next weekend they went on a date. Thirty-seven years later, they are still married.

Cowan told NEWS 13 she hoped the blaze was a wake-up call to officials and urged them to preserve historic properties in danger of being lost, such as the Menninger Campus and old Sumner School.

In 2019, WIBW reported that squatters frequented the abandoned mall. This became a problem for the authorities and in August 2020 the city of Topeka condemned the building.

At the time of the fire, the building belonged to KDL, Inc. Owner Kent Lindemuth said he filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Ultimately, Lindemuth was acquitted of 117 federal charges against him, most of which related to alleged bankruptcy fraud.

In March, Mainline Printing sued KDL, Inc., for failing to improve the property. In its petition, Mainline listed various examples of how the company has failed to make repairs since the December fire. The petition also stated that KDL had violated its property contract for years due to a lack of repairs and improvements to the doomed property.

Mainline gave KDL 20 days’ notice to make the repairs, which were not completed, so they asked the Shawnee Co. court to enforce the deal.

In August, the city of Topeka ordered KDL to demolish or sell the building to investors to demolish it. Even before the fire, the city reported that the White Lakes Mall was in ruins. However, the mall did not meet the criteria for demolition until the fire.

Topeka developer Henry McClure said, “Broken glass, I see everything like, looks like it was stripped off like people had trashed it, just utter destruction and chaos. Fight Club’s Mayhem Project.

McClure took a video inside the mall before the fire in late December.

On June 2, the City issued the order and said the structure was so deteriorated, dangerous, unsanitary and unsanitary that the cost of repairing it would be unreasonable – like a wrecked car.

If KDL did not foot the bill or find a vendor for the demolition, taxpayers could have been liable for up to $ 1,000,000 in the cost of demolition.

McClure said he worked for White Lakes second owner, Macerich Company, who owned the building in 1983. He said he could see an apartment complex or retail business filling the space.

“McDonald’s is scratching its building and building a new one, which makes it quality real estate. KFC does the same, they completely gutted it. We have Wendys across the street but when people come to the market to see my pad sites – and yes I admit Bennigans is an eyesore, I tried to praise him but people come see it and they look down the street, standing at Bennigans, you can see the mall, and it’s like waiting a minute. This area is collapsing.

However, in September there was still no improvement from KDL, so the city of Topeka said it was moving forward with the demolition of the mall after the council voted on it. unanimity to start the process.

“We appreciate the council getting involved and doing the right thing and helping the city get out of what has become extremely dangerous and dilapidated property,” said Parker Jr.

On October 7, the City took the first step towards demolition, emptying the shopping center of the water accumulated in the basement of the fire.

Finally, on November 29, 13 NEWS contacted the city about the demolition process, which officials said would begin by December. However, a city spokesperson said the demolition would then start no earlier than mid-January.

At the time, city officials were working on asbestos information that needed to be dealt with before demolition.

County property records show White Lakes Mall was appraised in 2020 for just over $ 800,000 and taxes were around $ 42,000.

13 NEWS reached out to city officials on Thursday to see the status of the demolition process, however, the city said it would not be able to provide an update on the mall until 2022.

White Lakes Fire 1 year anniversary
White Lakes Fire 1 year anniversary

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