By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota mall has fallen into disrepair, but we found its owner has a history of ignoring properties all across the country. The mall in Worthington has a leaky roof, buckets lined up on the floor and caution tape blocking off some areas.

It has all the markings of a construction site, not a shopping mall. At one point this month, buckets lined the halls and soggy theater seats kept moviegoers away.

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“It has been a social gathering spot for the people of Worthington, now it’s a point people want to avoid,” said Brad Chapulis, the city’s community and economic development director. “Ceiling tiles are in bad shape. You can see water damage to the ceiling tiles that are there.”

The spring thaw may have melted the city’s last nerve. Chapulis says the trouble started years ago when Mike Kohen took over Northland Mall. He says maintenance was never a priority and now the mall’s roof is in bad shape.

Kohen bought the mall 5 years ago. Based in New York, Kohen goes by three different last names. He’s known for buying malls out of bankruptcy or foreclosure all across the country.

He lists himself as the owner of 15 malls on his website. It’s where he also says his company “sees the future of aging malls as a place of mixed use that is more than just for shopping.”

But WCCO-TV found controversy often follows Kohen. He’s been taken to court, accused of not taking care of some properties. A few cities have even asked a judge for permission to knock down his malls after maintenance fell so far behind.

Kohen didn’t respond to our repeated calls for comment.

Chapulis thinks that what happened inside the old Kmart connected to Worthington’s mall should have served as a warning. Vacant for 15 years, there are now piles of garbage inside and a sign from the city to stay away. After repeatedly saying he’d take care of it, Kohen told Chapulis just last week that the building will be leveled this summer.

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Some 11,000 people live in Worthington, so city leaders say they have the population to support a mall that looks more like it did before.

“There was a lot of people. A lot of stores. Not anymore,” one shopper said.

“Now it’s almost kind of scary to come in,” another shopper added.

For as bad as it looks to shoppers, the effect on business owners has been even worse.

Mary Jean Pigman owns one of the seven stores still left. It’s called Discovering Treasures. She’s afraid it’s too late for anything to be done.

“The foot traffic is down considerably,” Pigman said.

But Worthington is vowing to make a change to a mall.

“We’re going to do what we need to do to make sure that happens,” Chapulis said.

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In an email from Kohen last week, Worthington city leaders were told that roof repairs on the mall will be finished in two months. The city said it’s checking into the validity of that plan and leaders will discuss the next step with the city attorney.

Liz Collin