A downtown restaurant forced to close Wednesday after city and state inspectors found water leaking onto the electrical system plans to reopen Saturday after correcting the problem, but the landlord has announced plans to shutter the building, in the process forcing his tenants to close or relocate, rather than address inspectors’ lengthy list of violations.

“This is certainly not good news,” said Helena Gagliano-McFarland, who owns Gagliano’s Italian Bistro with her family. “I don’t know how we’ve come to this, to be honest with you.”

Gagliano’s, one of four businesses in the building at 287 Water St., closed Wednesday after an inspection by Sondra Clark, a state health inspector, and Rob Overton, an Augusta code enforcement officer, went to Gagliano’s to investigate whether water penetrating the roof of the four-story building at the intersection of Water and Front streets had reached the first-floor restaurant. They didn’t find that, but inspectors did find water from a utility sink faucet at the restaurant had leaked down into the basement, where it had gotten the electrical system wet. The restaurant owners were told they had to close until a licensed electrician could ensure the electrical system’s safety.

Overton stressed that there were no health concerns with any of the restaurant’s practices.

The restaurant owners scrambled to fix the leak and get the necessary service people to sign off that it was safe to reopen. Overton signed off on those repairs Friday. Gagliano-McFarland said they considered opening Friday but decided to delay the reopening until Saturday after talking to the staff.

“Therefore, we can have some time to regroup,” she said Friday. “We think tomorrow will be busy.”

While Overton and the Gagliano’s owners were anxious to announce the restaurant’s reopening, the excitement was tempered by building owner Mark Zaloga’s announcement Friday afternoon that he intends to close the building within two months and put the building up for sale.

Zaloga, who lives in New York, couldn’t be reached for comment.

“I think it’s a financial consideration,” Overton said.

Overton’s investigation of code issues at the building started after the Greater Augusta Utility District told him that Zaloga had inquired about shutting off water service to the building’s sprinkler system.

Overton said the commercial building, which also has two other businesses on the first floor, is required to have a sprinkler system, and if it were shut off, all the businesses in it would be ordered to close.

While at the property last week, Overton and the fire chief inspected the structure and, Overton said, found “significant” code issues on the second, third and fourth floors. Those code problems included the upper floors having only one exit, inadequate emergency lighting and the lack of a fire alarm system.

He said they also noticed signs of water leaking through the roof, which had caused large areas of interior ceilings to collapse, and obvious signs water had penetrated the electrical system on those upper floors. Standing water was on both the third and fourth floors at the time of the inspection, and other areas had plastic tarps and buckets collecting water, Overton said.

Overton told Zaloga he shouldn’t shut the sprinkler system off and issued him a letter telling him to not allow any tenants to move into the unoccupied two uppermost floors. It told him to have the building’s electrical system inspected by an electrician to ensure it meets codes within 14 days. The owner also was told to provide documentation of the most recent sprinkler inspection within 14 days, fix the leaking roof within 30 days and submit a plan of correction addressing all alleged code violations within 90 days.

Zologa called Overton on Friday to announce his intention to close the building rather than make the repairs.

“He wants to close it down to limit his costs while he’s in the process of selling it,” Overton said.

Zologa, according to Overton, plans to evict his tenants, which includes Gagliano’s, Patricia Buck Bridal, Forbidden Fruit and Legalize Maine, within two months.

“We hope he does not follow through with that,” Overton said. “We don’t think it’s a good thing for any party, whether it’s the city, the downtown, the businesses in the building or the owner of the building.”

Overton said Zologa intends to leave the building unheated and said he intends to shut off the sprinkler system.

“I told him I would take whatever legal action necessary to make sure the sprinkler system stays active,” Overton said. “I don’t want a neighboring building’s sprinkler system to put out a fire.”

Steve Pecukonis, Augusta’s downtown manager, said he and city officials were already at work Friday afternoon brainstorming ways to help the threatened businesses. Pecukonis said officials hope the building will be repaired and kept open.

“For me, the short-term concern is how do we keep three businesses from being evicted,” Pecukonis said. “We’re exploring options and looking for whatever we can do to keep these businesses open.”

Gagliano-McFarland, who said she was “shocked and sad” to hear of Zaloga’s intention, hoped to work with Zologa to find an alternative to closing the building. She said staying open will be a challenge if the restaurant is forced to move.

“This comes with such short notice it would be almost impossible to relocate without having to close first,” she said. “We’re going to do everything we can. We obviously want to stay in business.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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