The Dec. 26 fire at the Downtown Mini Mall continues to leave local officials and business owners wondering about the full extent of the damage.
City engineers have examined the mini mall building at 108 N. Locust St. and are mostly concerned about the structural integrity of the back wall along North Austin Street, according to Julie Glover, Denton's economic development program administrator
Until structural engineers from the property owner's insurance company take a look at the building, fire investigators and cleaning crews are essentially in limbo, Glover said. She said she spoke to the family of Leo Will, the owner of the business and the property, on Tuesday, and they expect to hire an engineer this week to assess the building.
Will could not be reached for comment.
"They'll make a decision and hire somebody," Glover said. "Then they'll need to get a permit from the city to construct the scaffolding or whatever is going to go up to secure the front and back walls."
The cleaning and restoration process at the mini mall, as well as the fire investigation, will move forward after an engineer's assessment, she said. Glover will also be able to apply for a $25,000 re-investment grant from the city once there's a specific budget for the cleanup.
It's still unclear how long the chain-link fences on Locust and Austin streets will remain in place — another factor that depends on further structural assessments.
The fences were initially set up for safety reasons, to keep pedestrians away from the debris-ridden building. They were designed to protect people from rubble if a wall collapses, Glover said.
The fire left lasting impacts for at least three other businesses on the east side of the Square. Almost the entire inventories in La Di Da boutique and Shop the Barn, a vintage home decor shop, were destroyed by smoke and soot. The owners said on Dec. 27 that those businesses would remain closed for the foreseeable future.
Jupiter House owner Joey Hawkins said a structural engineer was scheduled to assess whether the building, which sits adjacent to the mini mall, is safe for occupancy. The engineer was set to arrive Tuesday, but findings could take up to 10 days to be released, Hawkins said.
Until then, some Jupiter House employees are starting to look for other jobs.
"They need to make money," Hawkins said.
The Denton County Courthouse on the Square reopened on Tuesday, but a restoration company is still cleaning inside the building. The fire left a layer of smoke and soot throughout the interior, and workers are expected to finish cleaning this week.
The Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum is going through its own separate restoration process, as conservators need to further examine damaged artifacts.
The courthouse cleanup is estimated to cost between $225,000 and $250,000, Denton County facilities director Danny Brumley said Tuesday during county commissioners' weekly meeting in the courthouse Tuesday. Those estimates may change after they finish the work, Brumley said.
Peggy Riddle, director of the Denton County Office of History and Culture, did not have a final cost estimate for the museum restoration.
"We've got estimates for our objects, our fine art — which includes the paintings and textiles — and we're finishing up the numbers for the paper items, which would include books and any photographs," Riddle told commissioners. "We should hopefully have that estimate by [Wednesday] or Thursday."
Riddle and Brumley said they have been sharing the estimates with the county's insurance company, Affiliated FM Insurance Co., and they have no reason to believe it won't cover the restoration, Brumley said.
Denton Fire Marshal Brad Lahart said his investigators have sent security cameras from the mini mall to a forensics lab in Tarrant County to be analyzed, but they're not sure whether they were working or recording at the time of the fire, he said.
For now, they're playing the waiting game.
"I don't want to put any of my investigators or anyone in the public in danger," Lahart said.
JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882.
FEATURED PHOTO: A note of thanks to Denton firefighters is seen Tuesday painted on the front widow of Jupiter House on the Square. A structural engineer was scheduled to assess the damage inside Jupiter House on Tuesday after a massive fire destroyed the Downtown Mini Mall on Dec. 26 and left nearby businesses with smoke and soot damage. Jeff Woo/DRC