The question does not appear to be whether the fire-charred Lakewood Shopping Center will be rebuilt – but when it will happen, and what it will look like.

And that’s also the hang-up.

The property’s owners must wait for an assortment of companies and agencies, including insurance adjusters. City code and zoning officials, and Dallas fire investigators, to finish their jobs. And no one is quite sure when that will happen.

“The ownership still has the desire to rebuild,” says Tim Kirk of Texas Commercial Properties, whose company manages the shopping center for a group of private investors.

“The building blends so well with the other structures in the center, and that particular corner of the property was one-of-a-kind architectural design.”

Kirk says she hopes to hire an architect to begin the rebuilding process later this month.

The center’s landmark tower was destroyed in a June fire that destroyed a number of stores, including the Café Brazil and Lakewood Lighthouse restaurants, the Paperbacks Plus used book store, Uniglobe Travel, and the Printing Please print shop.

Kirk and most of the store owners – Café Brazil was scheduled to reopen this month in the old Blue Front building on Abrams Road – are waiting on several developments before beginning to rebuild:

• The results of the arson inquiry. Deputy Fire Chief Tom Oney says his department continues investigating the fire’s cause. The fire caused an estimated $750,000 in damage and took 84 firefighters to extinguish. Oney declined to disclose the status of the investigation, other than to say the fire was caused by arson.
• Insurance adjusters for the property owners and the businesses still have not completed their inventories, and they aren’t expected to be finished until later this month.
• A decision still must be made about how the center’s unique zoning will affect rebuilding. The shopping center is part of a planned development district, the result of a compromise several years ago between developers and neighborhood groups. Whatever replaces the burned-out center must meet certain zoning requirements – for instance, the new building could be as tall as four stories, but still must include a specific number of parking spaces.

Several neighborhood developers have said it may be easier to tear down the fire damaged buildings and construct a parking lot rather than rebuild.

However, Lakewood Chamber of Commerce president Eloise Sherman says: “We foresee no problems with regard to zoning.”

In fact, an Old East Dallas Coalition study spearheaded by Judy Sogalnick was attempting to solve the center’s parking woes prior to the fire.

“We are in a state of confusing limbo,” says Marquetta Tilton, co-owner of Paperbacks Plus with her husband John. “We still have our staff on payroll, re-creating our library, readying ourselves for re-opening.

“But waiting any great length of time to see if space will be available for us in the same location is frustrating. It may be that we must choose a new location, but we will definitely be back in Lakewood.”