Shifting Soil At FlatIrons Crossing Has Shops Unsettled

2 Restaurants At Mall Close

Shifting soil underneath the pedestrian village at the FlatIron Crossing mall has forced two restaurants to close.

It's also sent some into legal negotiations with mall management about the cost of repairs.

Il Fornaio and Chipotle say they have closed up shop because their buildings in the pedestrian village were damaged by the moving soil.

Flatiron Crossing's general manager, Hugh Crawford, said the buildings are structurally safe. He said the mall is working with business on drainage problems, but any damage is simply cosmetic if it's fixed immediately. Officials are also looking into whether regular hosing and mopping of the restaurants is adding to the problem, he said.

"It's something we're aware of," Crawford said. "We're addressing it on an ongoing basis."

"We were always trying to stay a step ahead of the damage so no one got hurt and could turn around and say we were being negligent," Witt said.

Floor-heaving of up to 6 inches, expensive repairs and difficulty with mall management about how to address the problems persuaded Italian restaurant Il Fornaio to close in October, said Jesse Witt, a lawyer who represented the restaurant in negotiations with the mall. Witt said the Corte Madera, Calif.-based chain wanted to remain in the location, but the "soils problem" was the reason it closed.

It's a similar case for Denver-based burrito chain Chipotle, which shutdown in August. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said the restaurant left because the mall opted not to repair the building.

Next to Chipotle, the Brass Key Property Brokers LLC, had to move to another part of the village after spending $30,000 redesigning their original space. And at the Village Tavern restaurant, the building's exterior back door was opened when a wall shifted, forcing a quick fix before mice could come in and create a health hazard, said David Arkell, an attorney representing the restaurant.

"We're not happy," he said, adding that his client's patience is wearing thin.

Crawford said the mall's experts say the shifting soils will eventually lose its elasticity and stay still. But David Noe, senior engineering advisor and expansive soils expert with the Colorado Geological Survey, said that is a long shot.

Noe said soils will expand and contract so long as there are changes in moisture levels in the ground.

The 6-year-old village is located about 16 miles northwest of Denver.