Property manager Mark Axler confirmed that New York-based owners Cardinal Entities have placed for-lease signs on the 72-acre land in an effort to attract interest from potential tenants.
“It could be anything,” he said. “We’re open to see what somebody wants to do, and then we’ll look at it and see if it makes sense for Augusta and for us.”
The property has sat vacant since Montgomery Ward, its last anchor tenant, left in 2001. The following year, Cardinal Entities bought 700,000 square feet of the mall property, including the old JB White building, for about $1.2 million. Axler said then that Cardinal’s “forte” over the past four decades was redeveloping empty malls.
In 2007, the company purchased the remaining 138,000-square-foot Montgomery Ward parcel for $2.3 million.
According to the Tax Assessor’s office, the components that make up the old mall are valued at $4.2 million.
Over the years, there have been a number of ideas on what to do with the property. In the past decade, the city has considered using special-purpose sales tax collections to buy and raze the property or use the empty space as government offices.
Earlier this year, a city-commissioned study suggested demolishing the building and replacing it with a retirement community surrounded by businesses that would support senior housing as well as a neighborhood and a school.
The most recent signs, erected about two weeks ago, have generated “a few” phone calls from parties expressing interest in the property, said Axler, adding that it’s too early to disclose further information. He did say that a commercial use for the land would be a good option.
“I don’t think much more can happen at the Augusta Mall, because there’s no space to build anything else out there,” he said. “It would make sense if some majors (large retail stores) want to come in there. We’ve had some brokers calling that think that they can do stuff like that.”
Since it’s been vacant, the old mall has been a hotbed for theft and vandalism.
In the fall of 2012, owners were cited after fire officials found that the property’s fire alarm and sprinkler systems weren’t operable. They’ve since been working to remove all combustible materials from the structure.
Augusta License and Inspection Director Robert Sherman said work on the building is about 90 percent completed. The last part will be for the owners to finish blocking off the mall’s entrances with concrete barricades.
“They have just about done what was asked of them to do and that was just to completely gut the inside of the building and secure it,” he said.
In addition to the fire concerns, Sherman said vandals have stripped the vacant mall of anything of value.
Business owners surrounding the mall property have mixed feelings about what should become of it.
C.K. Jin has owned Jin’s Auto Services on Deans Bridge Road for about 20 years and said he’d like to see something akin to a sports complex, arena or civic center.
“It’s a wasted space,” he said. “That’s a good strategic location, just not utilized.”
Adam Delpriore, owner of a nearby beauty store, gave a park, community center or apartment complex as possibilities but worried that crime in the area would be a major deterrent.
“I don’t know what you can do with it,” said Delpriore, who owns Kings Beauty Supply in the shopping center at the intersection of Gordon highway and Deans Bridge Road. “I don’t think you could do anything too big. There’s regular shootings around here. It’s not going to be safe for anyone to be over there.”
According to Axler, the owners don’t plan to demolish the property and noted that they have invested $2 million this year in gutting the building.
“The structure is like if you built it today,” he said. “If you built a new structure today, it’s not built as well as this is.”