Officials find no mold in Regency

Inspectors allowed to tour what once was Georgia's largest shopping mall found many empty storefronts and some vandalism, but no moldy, dilapidated mess inside.

"It's like a ghost town," said Augusta Licensing and Inspections Director Rob Sherman, who inspected the 800,000-square-foot building for about an hour Tuesday with a team of inspectors sent in to ensure that the former mall complied with the city's mothballed properties ordinance.

The building appears structurally sound, with a few places the roof previously has leaked and some signs of damage, mainly broken glass and broken wallboard, Sherman said.

The primary concerns that inspectors had were that the mall and its parking lot should be better secured against trespassers, that fire sprinklers function properly and that overgrown shrubbery be cut back, he said.

Mark Axler, the vice president for mall owner Cardinal Entities, was in Augusta on Tuesday to let the group inside. In recent weeks, Cardinal removed the mall's rooftop air conditioning units that were damaged by copper thieves; then they secured the roof, Axler said.

The mall has been vacant since a Richmond County Marshal's Office substation moved out in March, and substantially so since its last anchor tenant, Montgomery Ward, moved out a decade ago.

"When I go through the mall, I think it's awesome because I can see the mall reopened," said Axler, who said his company buys and refurbishes malls around the United States and is weary of the public perception that Regency is dilapidated and filled with mold.

The Augusta Commission has had other ideas for Regency, but a 2009 proposal to spend $8 million in sales tax revenue to buy and demolish the mall fell flat when Cardinal announced its price -- $50 million -- even though the company paid only $9 million for the entire 72-acre parcel.

The same year, Cardinal successfully appealed a reassessment that increased the mall's value to $16 million.

"If you want to sell your house, you don't want the tax man to tax you on what you're asking for it," Axler said.

Cardinal's asking price for the mall now stands at $52.5 million, and a Japanese company has shown interest in buying the mall and reopening it, he said.

"Before the real estate market went into the tank, the mall was sold," with a buyer putting up $700,000 toward its purchase, he said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett, who campaigned on the issue of redeveloping the Gordon Highway tract and served on the board of assessors when it increased the mall's value, said inspectors needed to go in the mall because they hadn't done so in years.

"Even if it is mothballed and everything is proper, it's still an eyesore to the community," Lockett said. "Develop it, or let someone develop it that wants to."

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