CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Months after the June 23 floods, the Crossings Mall in Elkview remains empty, with no sign of construction to replace the culvert that was swept away by raging floodwater.
A hotel, restaurants, gas stations, stores and other businesses in the shopping center, including Kmart and Kroger, still are inaccessible, with no connection to Little Sandy Road.
“Kroger is frustrated with the delay from the original schedule for reopening the bridge,” Kroger Mid-Atlantic Division spokesman John Lambert said. “We do not have a firm commitment on a timetable for reopening the bridge.”
Plaza Management, headquartered in Atlanta, owns the property, but owner Bill Abruzzino and Facilities Maintenance Director Beth Abruzzino haven’t returned or answered phone calls from tenants, Kanawha County officials or reporters.
County Planning Director Steve Neddo said that although construction of the bridge is supposed to be done off site, there still would have to be some construction at the site of the old culvert.
County officials have been checking the site almost daily, but they haven’t seen any activity, Neddo said.
“Both banks of the creek, on either side, you would have to get some piers in there to support the bridge and we haven’t seen anything,” Neddo said.
County officials have tried contacting the Abruzzinos, but haven’t been successful.
Neddo said the company has the building permit, and listed Applied Construction Solutions, of Bridgeport, as the contractor.
ACS President David Alvarez said the materials have been ordered and the drawings for the bridge have been developed. Alvarez said the company had paid for the engineering and seemed to be pushing things along, but he directed all other questions to Brian Lasher, Plaza Management’s project manager.
It was unclear if the drawings are part of the engineering survey Bill Abruzzino provided to the county on July 15 to receive the building permit.
Lasher said Tuesday that he had been removed from the project and relocated by Plaza Management to Fairmont. He said he wasn’t sure if anyone had replaced him in managing the project at Crossings Mall.
Beth Abruzzino did not answer or return multiple phone calls, emails or Facebook messages Tuesday and Wednesday. Rebecca Abruzzino, wife of Bill Abruzzino, said “No comment,” when asked about the status of the Crossings Mall bridge, and she added that her husband was unavailable to take a phone call.
The Abruzzino family does not live in West Virginia: Bill and Rebecca Abruzzino live in Naples, Florida, and Beth Abruzzino’s address is listed in Mooresville, North Carolina.
Plaza Management has a box truck parked in front of the chasm where the culvert had been, but nobody was manning it Tuesday.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said there are roughly 500 people out of work because of the culvert being washed out. Although there is an emergency ramp near 84 Lumber toward the rear of the plaza, there is no public access to the shopping center.
In a previous email to tenants, Beth Abruzzino said the estimated construction time for the bridge would be eight weeks and was slated to begin the week of Aug. 1.
At least one business in the shopping center has closed its doors because of inaccessibility.
In a letter dated July 27, Bob Evans notified the roughly 40 employees at its Elkview restaurant that they would be terminated effective Aug. 1 due to circumstances beyond the company’s control.
And despite rumors that Wal-Mart might move into the plaza, they’re just that, rumors. Anne Hatfield, Wal-Mart’s director of communications, said the retail giant has no plans to develop in Elkview.
Still, some business owners remaining in the plaza are trying to hang onto hope.
Justin Elswick, co-owner of Anytime Fitness of Elkview, is trying to remain optimistic about the reopening, but said in a Facebook message that the last time he’d heard from Bill Abruzzino was about three weeks ago.
“We get our news from the same news outlets that everyone else gets theirs from. We rely on newspapers, broadcasts, and social media to find out details on when our own business may open its doors,” Elswick said. “It shouldn’t be like that. The owner of this plaza should be keeping his tenants informed. We shouldn’t have to rely on media or public information; we should have first hand information from him himself.”
Elswick said Bill Abruzzino had told him that he would not release any information to the tenants and would not speak to the news media. Abruzzino told Elswick that, if he spoke to the news media, he also might find himself speaking with attorneys, Elswick said.
All tenants were sent an email about three weeks ago, notifying them that they had to continue paying rent. However, Elswick said that after tenants collectively voiced opposition to that plan, Bill Abruzzino told them to withhold payments until completion of the bridge.
Elswick is working to get Anytime Fitness’s corporate attorneys involved in the situation, but he said he’s afraid there isn’t much that can be done, because of the lease agreement.
He said the biggest problem in delaying the plaza’s reopening is that it harms residents.
“[Residents] still continue to have to go to other locations to obtain supplies, food, medications, etc., from places far beyond what they are economically used to,” Elswick said. “Please shed light on what this plaza represents to the community.”