Elliot Lake mall owners 'never told there were leaks'

When a section of the mall roof collapsed in Elliot Lake, Ont., last summer, the owners were just days away from securing financing to pay for repairs, a public inquiry hears.

Levon Nazarian says Elliot Lake mall was his father's first unsuccessful venture

Owners say they were never told the mall had leaks before they bought it 2:04

When a section of the mall roof collapsed in Elliot Lake, Ont., last summer, the owners were just days away from securing financing to pay for repairs, a public inquiry was told Thursday.

The steel structure gave way in June 2012 after decades of water leaking through the rooftop parking deck had corroded the steel structure. Two people died.

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In testimony Wednesday, mall owner Robert Nazarian's son Levon called the mall — with a $6.2 million price tag — the largest investment his father ever made. It was also an investment that immediately turned into a money pit.

"When we bought the mall, we were never informed about the extent of the leaks," he said. "We were never even told that there were leaks."

Nazarian described how the family finances dwindled as his father attempted to fix the forever-leaking mall roof.

"I hate to say this to the commission, but there was a point that my father was at risk of losing his own house," he said.

Nazarian told the inquiry a loan from a federal business agency was the last hope, and after more than a year of waiting, it was approved.

The mall roof gave way the week before the money was to arrive.

Levon Nazarian told the Elliot Lake Inquiry his father's purchase of the Algo Centre Mall was the largest investment his father ever made — and it turned out to be a money pit. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

The inquiry also heard about various plans the Nazarian's had for fixing the roof in the years the family owned the mall — including one to have a solar company put panels on the roof in exchange for waterproofing it — but they all faltered over the cost.

Not welcome 'to do business'

Nazarian told the inquiry as the building deteriorated, so did his company's relationship with Elliot Lake.

"In this city, if you are not part of the old boys club, you are not welcomed here to do business," he said. "We were not part of that old boys club.

"The city was also coming after us for things that haven't been looked at for 30 years. All of a sudden, they come up with their issues that have to be repaired immediately, immediately, immediately."

Nazarian told the inquiry all of his father's various business ventures were successful before he invested in the Elliot Lake mall.

Robert Nazarian bought the mall in 2005 from Elliot Lake Retirement Living.

Retirement Living is a non-profit agency the city set up in the 1990s to diversify the economy when the uranium mines that supported the town were shutting down.

The inquiry has heard previous evidence that Retirement Living had the money to install a waterproof barrier in the roof during its ownership of the mall — but chose not to.

The general manager of Retirement Living, which bought the mall in 1999, said the company never intended to waterproof the mall's roof. Instead it chose to use a maintenance plan instead.

The public inquiry was established in July 2012 by the Ontario government and has been underway in Elliot Lake since March.

It was created to report on events surrounding the mall roof's collapse on June 23, 2012, the deaths of Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo, the injuries to others and the emergency management and response.