$3M damage estimate from water-main break at shopping center

Philadelphia Water Department employees work to fix a water-main break and fill a sinkhole created over the weekend in the parking lot of Bakers Centre, an East Falls shopping center. Damage from 13 million gallons of water is estimated at $3 million. Nearby stores received extensive flood damage.
Philadelphia Water Department employees work to fix a water-main break and fill a sinkhole created over the weekend in the parking lot of Bakers Centre, an East Falls shopping center. Damage from 13 million gallons of water is estimated at $3 million. Nearby stores received extensive flood damage. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 15, 2014

Damage was estimated in the millions of dollars Monday after the weekend break of a century-old water main flooded a $58 million shopping center near East Falls that opened only a few months ago.

Water rose two feet inside the ShopRite supermarket at Bakers Centre, infiltrated a Ross store and others, and obliterated portions of an expansive parking lot after the 48-inch transmission main broke about 4:30 a.m. Saturday. Damage was extensive at the development, praised when it opened in late 2013 for its reuse of an old Tastykake warehouse in a longtime food desert.

Authorities were investigating what might have caused the cast-iron main to fail. Dating to 1895, it was one of four transmission mains beneath the suburban-style shopping center, built with private and public funds at Fox and Roberts Streets, said Philadelphia Water Department spokeswoman Joanne Dahme.

Crews removed the broken section of pipe Monday from its location 20 feet underground, and investigators were to study environmental factors such as soil condition in their search for a cause. The damaged pipe was to be sent to an independent lab for analysis, Dahme said.

Water Department claims crews were on site all weekend helping tenants, and by Monday store owners and landlord/developer Michael Grasso continued repairs.

"I was there Saturday, and I was there Sunday, soaking wet and full of mud," said Grasso, president of Metro Development Co., of Ardmore, who learned of the break while watching the morning news.

At first, he said, he thought the report pertained to the cleanup of a recent water-main break in Northeast Philadelphia. Then he recognized the shopping center, threw on clothes, and bolted from his Lower Merion home.

"When I saw the stores, I said, 'Crap! This is our center,' " he recalled.

Grasso estimated at least $3 million in damage to the parking lot alone. Lights and shrubs were swept away, a sinkhole formed, and drainage ditches were destroyed by the 13 million gallons let loose over two hours.

Concerns about structural damage to the only two-story building at the shopping center - a corner wing that houses a Planet Fitness, among other tenants - prompted him Monday to hire a structural engineer to inspect its integrity, Grasso said.

"It's like a nightmare," said the developer, whose portfolio includes large suburban retail projects.

Grasso hired his own crews to assist mom-and-pop tenants with cleanup, while larger occupants such as Ross and ShopRite rushed in with their own contractors and had reopened by Sunday. The Water Department also helped out, he said.

But Grasso said he feared that two small tenants in particular - Dollar Plus and Hair Buzz, both privately owned - would suffer the most, given that tenants technically are responsible for flood cleanup and claims.

A state liquor store will likely reopen in the next week or so, he said.

At the ShopRite, water saturated drywall as well as ductwork encasing pipes and electrical systems. All would have to be replaced, said owner Jeff Brown. But it was only part of the problem: Food was destroyed, and an entire day's worth of sales and operating profit lost.

Computer systems were spared, Brown said: His night crew erected a sandbag-like shield from bags of rock salt when they saw water pouring in.

"It was quick thinking on their part," said Brown. Some employees later were evacuated by fire officials in boats to protect them from potential sinkholes, he said.

Brown planned to seek damage reimbursements, including for lost profit, through claims with the Water Department. Losses, he estimated, were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.


BY THE NUMBERS

$58M

cost of shopping center.

235,000

square footage of total shopping space.

72,000

square footage of the ShopRite.


mpanaritis@phillynews.com

215-854-2431 @Panaritism

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