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Galleria fires to cost $6.5 million and counting

Severe destruction to 20 stores, minor damage to others
By: Sena Christian & Lien Hoang, The Press Tribune
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The Galleria Mall will stay closed at least for several days as investigators comb the rubble where a barricaded man Thursday ignited several fires. They still cannot reach the epicenter of the arson inside GameStop, where suspect Alexander Piggee discarded his backpack. Officials must treat the bag as a possible explosive because witnesses smelled a chemical odor from it, Roseville Police Lt. Michael Doane said. Piggee, 23, also claimed to have a bomb during his arrest, but later denied it in a jail interview. Projected damages begin at $6.5 million, not to mention the $70,000 bomb squad robot crushed when flames knocked down part of the mall roof. It also buried the backpack. Firefighters contained the flames by Thursday evening, but are keeping one engine on watch through Friday night. Of the 240 stores inside, roughly 20 got the brunt of the fire, smoke and water damage, according to Roseville fire chief Dennis Mathisen. He went inside to survey the impact, which reached both stories of the Galleria. He said there were too many other stores with lesser damages to estimate, but GameStop and neighbors Finish Line and Anchor Blue were demolished. Anchor tenants Macy’s and JC Penney are looking good, according to City of Roseville spokeswoman Megan MacPherson. Mathisen called damages “significant,” describing broken glass, soot, melted signs, and 3-inch pools of water. Westfield spokeswoman Katy Dickey said total 2009 revenues amounted to $428 per square foot – which for the 1.5 million-square-foot mall equals $642 million. Roseville Mayor Gina Garbolino noted the shopping center brought the city $3.2 million in annual taxes. In the the fourth quarter of last year, the Galleria provided $1.1 million in sales tax revenue — meaning that quarter, which encompasses the holiday shopping season, makes up a third of the annual sales tax revenues it provides for the whole year, according to a press release issued by the city Friday. MacPherson said the city will provide better estimates of the impact on sales tax revenue when the mall damage has been better accessed. She said the city has a team dedicated to expediting the permit process to help the mall rebuild. “We’ve been working in lock step with Westfield,” she said. “They have not been inside yet to assess the damage with their own people and crews, and as soon as they get in, they will make an assessment (in terms of) water, fire and structural damage.” Concerns have flooded the city about the Galleria’s lost revenue as it heads into the year’s biggest shopping season, particularly on the tail end of a recession. To help Galleria employees temporarily out of work, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday declared a state of emergency in Placer County. That abolished the one-week waiting period typically required to make unemployment claims. The declaration also suspended regulations to expedite clean-up, including a waiver for permits for disposal, emergency construction and storage. Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Lien Hoang can be reached at lienh@goldcountrymedia.com.