Ruling may set stage for mall sale

The city had asked a judge for the summary judgment after owners defaulted on assessments.

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WALLA WALLA -- A judge has granted the city of Walla Walla a summary judgment of foreclosure on the Blue Mountain Mall property after owners defaulted on assessments from road improvements linked to the property more than 20 years ago.

The ruling Monday by Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Schacht sets the stage for a possible sale of the land.

It is the second major step the city has taken recently to help spark revitalization of the commercial property, which has been left in an obliterated state of demolition over the past three years.

After Monday's oral ruling, City Attorney Tim Donaldson prepared a form of order and judgment which was served to the attorney of Walla Walla Town Center LLC, the ownership group of the mall property.

Donaldson expects to be back in court Sept. 15 for a final judgment. If Walla Walla Town Center fails to pay the roughly $54,000 it owes the city from Local Improvement District assessments that date to roadwork when the mall was built, the potential foreclosure sale could take place around the end of October, Donaldson said this morning.

If the back payments are made, a sale would be off the table. Donaldson didn't want to speculate on how Walla Walla Town Center will respond. The company owes more money on the property than the property is worth, according to the company's previous bankruptcy filing and accompanying affidavits that contained appraisal information.

"I don't know what to expect," Donaldson said. "I would be surprised if they stepped up and paid for this, unless they have the money to pay off everybody else."

The last time Donaldson spoke to Winston Bontrager, a principal of Walla Walla Town Center LLC, was just over a month ago when the city attorney was serving the mall owner with a nuisance abatement order. At that time, Donaldson said Bontrager told him Walla Walla Town Center expected to close on a loan Aug. 15 and resume redevelopment.

Redevelopment has not restarted, but as a result of that legal action the city was granted access to the mall property to begin cleanup of what Schacht agreed were "nuisance conditions."

Donaldson said the city will continue the cleanup course of action at the same time that it pursues foreclosure.

He said crews from the city's Public Works Department have been on site to assess the conditions, which will be used to create a scope of work. The city plans to hire a company for cleanup.

Donaldson said the assessment is still taking place. He expects to know the estimated cost of cleanup by the second week of September.

"It's a huge mess," he said. He said city employees have told him the curbside view of the wreckage is just a fraction of the total picture. A deer has apparently made its home at the site. There are gaps in the perimeter fencing so wide that vehicles can get through. At least one did. A photo of a vehicle that took a wrong turn and ended up in the mess was used as evidence in the city's nuisance abatement filing.

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