Tuesday Apr 19 2011
Six months after the fire
By: ToLewis, The Press Tribune
Westfield Galleria makes progress on rebuild
Six months after a blaze tore through the Westfield Galleria at Roseville, crews are making progress on getting the mall fully opened by fall. But some questions remain unanswered about the arson fire that caused more than $55 million in damages. In the after action report released by the city of Roseville in December, a Westfield maintenance worker who believed he was acting on police orders shut off sprinklers during the Galleria mall blaze. Westfield has not released the name of the maintenance worker who turned off the sprinkler system, nor did officials offer any information as to whether or not that man still works for the company. According to Placer County court records, one lawsuit was filed on March 24 against Westfield LLP in which Pursuel Companies claims Westfield was, “grossly negligent in deactivating the fire alarm system for a period of 71 minutes.” Court documents show that Pursuel Companies entered into a short-term license agreement with Westfield to sell Zagg products, plastic covers for computer equipment and cell phones, in September 2010. The company claims it lost its entire inventory due to the fire. Westfield declined to comment, citing pending litigation. But officials maintain the response to the fire was the best possible given the situation, and nothing could have been done differently. “Operating in a dynamic situation with limited information, police and fire personnel from Roseville and throughout the region resolved the situation without serious injuries and without any fatalities,” said Roseville Fire Chief Dean Grundy in a press conference on Dec. 17. “While hindsight reveals lessons that will help improve future responses, it also demonstrates that these lessons would not necessarily have changed the outcome.” Today, about 161 stores have reopened, including all of the major anchor department stores, according to Stephanie Ringey, marketing director for Westfield Galleria at Roseville. A giant crane works outside the mall adding the finishing touches to the new steel roof and Galleria officials expect the mall to be “water tight” in the coming weeks. Westfield spokesperson Steve Telliano said the rebuilding efforts are coming along very well and the center is on track to reopen this fall. “We will share a more specific date later this summer, as we get closer to reopening,” Telliano said in an email to the Press Tribune. “Our goal is to be open this fall before the one-year anniversary of the fire.” City of Roseville spokesperson Megan MacPherson says she is very happy with the way citizens of Roseville and the surrounding communities supported the Galleria during the past six months, in the midst of the tragedy. “What was pretty neat about the recovery from the arson is there was a sense that people were doing their civic duty to shop, not only at the Galleria but all around,” MacPherson said. MacPherson said the city was initially losing $10,000 to $12,000 per day in tax revenue while the mall was closed, but that tax revenues for that quarter (October through December) in the city were actually up 2 percent. “The support from the community has been overwhelming,” Telliano said. “In spite of the partial closure, our center’s foot traffic is very strong – even ahead of last year.” The Galleria reopened its children’s play area on April 8, and Telliano said the mall is seeing greater numbers of families in the center. Many of the stores surrounding the children’s play area, such as Cinnabon, Popcornopolis, Janey and Jack, Pumpkin Patch and Pottery Barn Kids, are expected to open in the next few weeks, Ringey said. Rocklin resident Christina Morales said the mall felt “quite depressing” the first month or so after the fire when everything was closed, but that did not keep her away. “As soon as it opened, we were here for the grand opening,” Morales said. “We come here almost every day. We just kind of walk around and eat ice cream and stuff.” Auburn resident Lisa Collins also said the mall had a different feel for a while. “It was weird to come in here and have all the different mazes you had to go through to get to things,” Collins said. “There were definitely stores that we missed, so I’m really glad that it’s getting there.” Alexander Piggee, 24, of Sacramento, pleaded guilty on March 8 to setting the blaze that closed the entire mall for about one week, just before the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Piggee faces 10 years in prison when he is sentenced on May 24, according to Lauren Horwood of the Department of Justice, Eastern District of California. Toby Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.