ELLIOT LAKE, Ont. - An expensive plan to fix the perennially leaking Algo Centre Mall went nowhere because the rooftop garage could not have sustained the weight of the proposed repair, the mall's owner testified Wednesday.
Bob Nazarian told the inquiry into the mall's deadly collapse he was on the verge of signing a contract worth $903,000 in the spring of 2008 until he discovered the plan would not work.
"I'm thankful to my God that I did not sign the contract," Nazarian testified on his second day on the stand.
"We could have had a catastrophe."
The plan, developed by an architect Nazarian had hired, involved putting down a membrane on the roof and covering it with asphalt.
A local newspaper article in April 2008 trumpeted the proposed fix, saying work would be starting in two weeks.
In testy exchanges with commission counsel Peter Doody, Nazarian blamed the mall manager for providing false information to the public.
"You did nothing to tell (people) it was not true," Doody said.
"I told my manager to take care of this false advertising," Nazarian responded.
Nazarian also described how he desperately sought financing for the repair work by, among other things, asking the town to forgo property taxes on the mall, the largest local taxpayer.
However, the town was legally precluded from lowering the taxes.
"I explained the mall needs help," Nazarian said.
"The other suggestion was to help me to fix the damn roof."
Nazarian, 68, of Richmond Hill, Ont., also sought financing from the Royal Bank, which had been pressing for repairs to the mall.
Pressure mounted on Nazarian after the bank said his mortgage was in technical default because financial statements were late in coming.
"That was a terrible situation," Nazarian said. "They were virtually taking over the mall."
Ultimately, the proposed fix went nowhere, and the mall continued leaking, much to the consternation of its tenants.
Some of the mall's main occupants were complaining or threatening to leave over the constant water infiltration and mould, prompting a series of promises from management that a solution to the problems was at hand.
Part of the roof deck crashed down on June 23, 2012, the result of rusted steel supports, killing two women.
Earlier in the day, Nazarian admitted ignoring for years orders to replace fireproofing in the building.
However, he rejected suggestions he was simply being carelessly obstinate, saying he did not comply with the order from the town's fire chief because leaking into the building needed fixing first.
"Regardless of fire chief what he says, if the leak is continuing, the fireproofing is not adequate," he said.
Nazarian did comply years later, after a running battle with the city resulted in a conviction under the fire code.