Large, vacant and wholly despised by its south Augusta neighbors, Regency Mall has more problems than several recent fires set there by vagrants.
The building’s lack of working fire alarms and sprinklers puts it in violation of state fire codes, Fire Chief Chris James told the Augusta Commission at a committee meeting Monday.
“If that building was to catch on fire, we need to know as soon as possible,” said James, who appeared at the request of Commissioner Bill Lockett.
The parking lot also has access issues on its back side, James said, with weight limits uncertain for the safe passage of heavy fire trucks, or – as in the case of the recent presence of the Cole Bros. Circus in the Regency lot – truckloads of animals.
“They’re bringing in tons and tons of weight in terms of the big elephants, lions and tigers and bears,” Commissioner Alvin Mason said.
Mason asked for an update the next time an event makes an impromptu move to Regency. City Planning and Development Director George Patty said the circus’ planned venue on Wrightsboro Road had fallen through at the last minute, prompting the move.
The old mall is subject to the fire code in effect when it opened – in 1978 – so long as its use does not change, James said. Even in 1978, working sprinklers and alarms were required, he said.
The violations could be cause for the commission to begin an action ordering demolition of the mall, Patty said. The administrative services committee received the report as information but took no further action.
A consequence of firefighters’ late arrival at a Regency fire could be a catastrophic event that would endanger anyone inside and likely require assistance from surrounding agencies, James said after the meeting.
“It’s a very large building and very easy for a firefighter to get lost in a building of that size,” James said. “It would be a dangerous fire that could risk the lives of firefighters or anyone who entered that building, legally or not.”
Commissioner Jerry Brigham questioned whether the report Monday could require more of mall owner Cardinal Management than of other absentee owners of vacant buildings.
“I don’t think it’s right to single any given property owner out to have a discussion about their property,” Brigham said.
James said the same requirements would be made of any large vacant structures.
“Anytime that we know there is a code violation, it is our responsibility to be sure the code is being followed,” he said.