Originally created 09/25/98

Options considered for Regency Mall



Every Thursday, 86-year-old Loretta Kent drives more than 50 miles from her home in Gibson to Regency Mall. She's been shopping there ever since the mall opened in 1978.

But these days, Ms. Kent said, there aren't many stores to choose from.

"I hate it. I just hate it," she said.

The only large department store left is Montgomery Ward.

Regency Mall, once the crown jewel of the retail centers in the area, has been in decline since the early 1990s. Occupancy is at most 35 percent, according to mall management. But despite efforts to lock in new tenants, the mall is struggling.

The mall recently was able to attract a few new tenants to the mall: D&S Home Cooked Foods, a restaurant, is scheduled to open Oct. 1 where Piccadilly Cafeteria used to be located. And The Richmond County Marshal's office and a teen clinic also are moving in soon, mall management said.

But Regency Mall still looks empty.

"It's like a ghost town," recent shopper Jerome Sanders said.

Even the stores that still are in the mall acknowledge traffic is sparse.

"There's nothing here," Foot Action Manager Tal Valentin said.

Local business leaders, such as Jimmy Smith with Greater Augusta Progress, believe mall redevelopment is integral to the economic success of south Richmond County. Greater Augusta Progress is an organization with a strategic plan to revitalize Augusta.

Recency Mall has more than 1 million square feet of available retail space, Mr. Smith said. He envisions it being used by stores and professional or government offices.

"If they could do something, over time, it would just light up," he said. "That area would change so much."

Regency Mall Manager Belle Lambert agrees.

"South Richmond will probably be the area with the most tremendous growth in the next four to five years," she said. "I believe in this property."

At full capacity, the mall could employ as many as 1,000 people, she said.

But right now, every day the mall is open it is losing money, owner Paul Woo said. Mr. Woo, who lives in Raleigh, N.C., and his partner Haywood Whichard, have been attempting to turn the mall around since they bought it in 1996. There efforts have not been successful. About half of the stores that were there when they bought the mall -- including anchor stores, Belk and J.B. White -- have left.

"We have a vacancy problem." Mr. Woo said.

Mr. Woo is considering several options.

He may put the mall up for sale, he said.

Part of reason why the mall is failing is that it is an enclosed building, and many tenants want visibility from the street, he said. It also has been neglected for years by previous owners and requires extensive renovation.

Here are some of the options he said he is considering:

Sell it to someone who would lease the mall to retail and office tenants.

Sell it to someone who will develop the mall as a discount mall.

Sell it to the county as government offices.

Mr. Woo said he also would consider a joint venture with a developer.

"(But) at some point and time," he said. "(We'll have to) spend money to redevelop it or just sell it at a reduced price."