Inspectors will go inside Regency Mall for the first time in several years, although the promise of a buyer continues to slow the arrival of a demolition crew.
"We commissioners disagree on a lot," Augusta Commission member Bill Lockett said, "but when we have a location which borders so many commissioners and we can't get something done about it, something's wrong with that picture."
Lockett, who made Regency a campaign issue and frequently dissents on the city's plans to reorganize government, questioned Monday progress the city was making with the former shopping mall, once Georgia's largest. It has stood substantially vacant on Gordon Highway since anchor tenant Montgomery Ward moved out a decade ago.
City Administrator Fred Russell presented an April 22 letter from mall owner Alan Cardinale during Monday's Administrative Services Committee meeting.
"They're currently negotiating with a potential purchaser," Russell said.
As it prepares to construct a flood control project nearby, the city hopes "that someone would come in there and do a private project," Russell said. The water feature is included in Augusta's master plan, whose "priority corridor" stretches from downtown to Rocky Creek, which borders the mall.
No buyer has materialized, and the mall's Mattituck, N.Y.-based owners have paid only partial taxes on them since 2009, when the Richmond County Board of Assessors reassessed the properties.
The owners appealed the ruling, and the Board of Equalization returned the value from $16 million to $4.2 million. The assessors board appealed, and that appeal is still being litigated.
During a 2009 campaign speech, Lockett, who then served on the assessors board, said the mall reassessment was an effort "to force these people who own it to either sell it or develop it." He later retracted the statement.
A committee motion Monday directed inspectors to go inside the mall to determine whether it might violate the city's mothballed properties ordinance.
The site lost its last known occupant when a Richmond County Marshal's Office substation moved to a new building March 22.
In other commission business, Augusta is no closer to having a private company run its bus service, after Russell said Monday that a separate work session was needed for the commission to review a proposal from Mobility Transit Services LLC.
The Knoxville, Tenn.-based company was selected from three qualified bidders by an evaluation committee, and Mobility Transit Services representative Kevin Adams appeared at Monday's meeting.
The work session, likely to be held in the next few weeks, was welcomed by Lockett, who said he has many questions.