Augusta fire officials inspect Regency Mall for combustibles

The Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department performed a walkthrough inspection of the vacant Regency Mall on Tuesday. Lt. Jason Beard said the owners are steadily removing all combustible materials such as sheetrock and wood.

The interior of what once was a 72-acre retail extravaganza now resembles an empty shell, as Regency Mall’s owners continue to remove combustible materials to meet fire codes.

Regency was cited this fall for being a firetrap after officials discovered the loosely secured mall’s fire alarm and sprinkler systems were inoperable. Owners chose to remove all combustible materials from the vacant building instead of repairing the alarm systems, Augusta Fire Chief Chris James said Tuesday.

Fire Lt. Jason Beard, who performed a walkthrough inspection Tuesday, said owners are steadily removing combustible materials such as sheetrock and wood.

“When I got out there, it was better than what I thought,” Beard said. “They’re tearing everything out of the building. There won’t be anything left except concrete and steel. There wouldn’t be anything there left to burn.”

Mark Axler, who manages the property for owner Car­di­nale Holdings LLC, said the company will spend between $750,000 and $1 million to gut the mall in a continued effort to sell it.

“I get a lot of calls, at least one a week,” Axler said. “The economy is changing now, and we were told some things are coming out of the woodwork.”

The inspection was performed in advance of a Thurs­day hearing in magistrate court on the code violations. A judge will have the final say, but Beard said progress was sufficient enough for him to recommend owners be given an extension to complete the requirements.

Augusta Commission member Bill Lockett, who represents the Dean’s Bridge Road-Gordon Highway area where the mall sits, was not impressed by the work done on the visible reminder of blight on the city’s south side. Once Georgia’s largest mall, Regency’s last anchor tenant, Mont­gomery Ward, closed in 2001.

“Five years ago, it was the same song and dance,” Lockett said. “It’s an eyesore in the community that has not been properly maintained, and it hinders having new businesses and new residents come into your area.”

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