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Damaged Duluth mall may reopen in sections

City inspectors need to sign off on the condition of fire alarms and other safety systems

Tall cranes are positioned next to mall as fresh snow falls.
Miller Hill Mall remains closed Thursday after the roof collapsed Tuesday. Work on the roof appears to have paused as heavy snow blankets the Northland.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — The Miller Hill Mall may reopen in sections. City administrators declared the mall unsafe to occupy shortly after a portion of its roof collapsed Tuesday.

For the city to deem it safe again and allow normal operations to resume, Simon Property Group, which owns the mall, must do the following:

  • Shore up the roof around the site of the cave-in, remove snow and other debris, and temporarily enclose the exposed area.
  • Complete a structural analysis of the roof and report corrective measures to the city.
  • Restore fire alarms, sprinkler systems, emergency lighting and other “life safety” systems, as well as restore access to nearby mall exits that were blocked by debris. The city’s Construction Services and Inspections division and the Life Safety office at its fire department would then verify that the work on those systems has been done properly.
Piles of snow fall through a hole in a mall roof, as seen from the inside.
The outdoors is visible through a hole left by a roof collapse at the Miller Hill Mall on Tuesday.
Contributed / Scott Skar

The mall’s owners hope to have all that work done in phases — getting the city sign-off for, say, a quarter of the building at a time, according to Blake Nelson, Duluth’s building official. The earliest the city could allow a section of the mall to reopen would be once Nelson is notified that it’s ready for those safety systems to be inspected, he said.

Expected snowfall totals are reduced for most areas.

That inspection could happen as soon as Friday, but a snowstorm was expected to complicate matters. The National Weather Service is projecting less snowfall than it did earlier this week, but still predicts about 6-8 inches will land on the Twin Ports by Saturday.

And the city’s permission, if or when it's given, doesn’t mean the mall can or will open, Nelson stressed.

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“I can’t say, ‘Open the doors now. It’s ready for shoppers,’” he explained. “I’m just saying it’s safe for the public to go in, and then after that, it’s up to Simon.”

Miller Hill is still closed until further notice, Megan Reuer, its director of marketing and business development, said Thursday via text message.

Collapsed portion of roof.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

A cubic foot of accumulated snow can weigh about 25 pounds, according to a rough estimate by Brock Hedegaard, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Roofs in St. Louis County must be able to support a “snow load” of 42 pounds per square foot. Structural engineers hired by Simon want no more than approximately 18 inches of snow at any spot on the Miller Hill roof, according to Nelson.

Leaders at Essentia Health, who maintain services at the mall, were awaiting a Friday decision about a potential weekend reopening for the hospital’s Center for Personal Fitness there, Tony Matt, an Essentia spokesperson, said Thursday afternoon.

Essentia's facilities there will remain closed Friday.

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Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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