Construction atop Karmel Mall collapses

No one hurt as wood tumbles onto sidewalk

Building owner Basim Sabri outside of Karmel Mall, where a rooftop addition collapsed Tuesday morning. Credit: Dylan Thomas

WHITTIER — No one was reported injured in a partial collapse of new construction atop the Karmel Mall, a bustling immigrant shopping center located adjacent to the Midtown Greenway.

Witnesses described a loud rumble at about 8:45 a.m. Tuesday as wood framing on the two-story building’s roof collapsed, some of it falling onto the Pillsbury Avenue sidewalk below. Some of the addition fell onto power lines, and there were reports of power outages in the area at the time of the collapse.

Building owner Basim Sabri said the construction was for a third- and fourth-floor expansion of the mall, which houses dozens of businesses mainly owned by and catering to the Somali community. A framing crew was at the site up until about 11:30 p.m. the night before the collapse, Sabri said.

“They should’ve secured the trusses at the end a little more,” he said, adding that “things fell like dominos” in the wind.

He said Monday was the “first major day” of construction.

Fifth Precinct Commander Todd Loining said Sabri “had the necessary permits in place” for the work. Sabri has in the past initiated work on the buildings he owns in the area without first getting the required permits.

Loining said the older parts of the building did not appear to be damaged in the collapse. About two-dozen people were evacuated from the mall when first responders arrived on the scene, he said.

Hassan Mohamud, who works at a business that sells prepaid calling cards inside the mall, said he was smoking a cigarette outside the gated parking lot when the collapse occurred. It was “a little windy” at the time, Mohamud added.

“I think it’s bad construction,” he said. “… In my opinion, I think he’s not going to the rule.”

Raymond Hoffman, who lives across Pillsbury Avenue in the Park Square Condominiums, said he called recently elected Ward 10 City Council Member Lisa Bender to express his concerns about the quality of the construction prior to the collapse.

“When I saw it I was angry, really angry,” said Hoffman, the president of the condominium association.

Bender’s aide, Ben Somogyi, said the Ward 10 office checked and confirmed that permits were in place for construction of the third floor after receiving one constituent phone call regarding the project on April 28. The open permit was dated April 14, Somogyi said.

Sabri’s history of initiating construction without the proper permits landed his nearby apartment building, Karmel Village, on the city’s now defunct guided compliance list in 2009. It was one of just 12 properties citywide targeted for closer scrutiny by inspectors.

Sabri’s past behavior contributed to a relationship with the Whittier Alliance neighborhood organization that the board’s president, Erica Christ, described as “antagonistic.” Neighbors raised concerns not just about un-permitted work, but the quality of the construction, Christ said.

“The shame of it all is that Karmel Mall is this huge thing of value for the community,” she added. “People come from all over the Midwest to go there. They drive up from Chicago. They come from Omaha. It’s really this hidden jewel of the city.”

On a list provided by the city Tuesday afternoon, there were 17 open permits for the mall, located at 2910 Pilsbury Ave. S. City spokesperson Casper Hill said a land use application for construction of a fourth floor at Karmel Mall was awaiting approval.

Daud Mohamed said he was eating breakfast at a restaurant inside Suuqa Karmel, located across the parking lot from the mall, Tuesday morning. Mohamed couldn’t hear the collapse over the sound of the restaurant’s television, but he said the power immediately cut out. Loining said the Fifth Precinct building several blocks away also lost power at the time of the collapse.

Ahmed Abdi, who works at a restaurant inside Karmel Mall, stood with the largely Somali crowd gathered outside of a police perimeter Tuesday morning. Abdi was on his way into work when the collapse occurred.

Abdi said he’d heard the addition was meant to house a mosque or prayer room currently located on the mall’s second floor. He estimated construction work began roughly two months earlier.

(Below, the scene on Pillsbury Avenue about one hour after a new addition under construction on the Karmel Mall rooftop collapsed. Photo by Dylan Thomas)

(Below, Karmel Mall owner Basim Sabri. Photo by Dylan Thomas)