Originally created 01/20/99

Mall owners negotiate sale



Owners of Regency Mall, home of Augusta's largest chunk of vacant retail property, are negotiating with an Atlanta investor interested in turning it into a factory outlet mall.

The potential buyer has only signed a letter of intent to purchase the property, and a contract has not been drawn up yet, co-owner Haywood Whichard said.

"We don't have anything close to a deal yet," Mr. Whichard said.

The ailing shopping center, once the hottest commercial property in town, has been on the market for months.

Rumors that a sale has already taken place have been circulating for days, and the mall office has received numerous calls about it, according to interim marketing manager Diane Faircloth.

"We've got some real exciting things happening here," she said, but declined to give specifics.

Mr. Whichard and partner Paul Woo, both of Raleigh, N.C., acquired the mall in 1996 from New York-based Equitable Real Estate by assuming $12.5 million in debt.

Mr. Whichard said he did not know when, or if, a deal would be struck.

"This guy's been talking about closing in two weeks for two months now," he said.

Mr. Woo said in a September interview that the mall was losing money every day it stayed open. Nearly 70 percent of the mall is vacant.

Regency Mall was built in 1978 -- the same year as the Augusta Mall -- but has suffered high vacancy rates in recent years because of changing traffic patterns and a series of high-profile crimes that occurred on the premises.

The mall, with more than 1 million square feet of empty space, has been on the market for months. It's last remaining anchor store is Montgomery Ward.

Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce President Jim West said he was unaware a sale was in progress. Not knowing the details, he would only say the deal "has potential to be great news."

Revitalization, whichever form it took, would be welcomed by the nearby residents, many of whom still reminisce of the days when the mall bustled with business.

"I hope whatever goes in there is positive," said Augusta Commissioner Henry Brigham, whose district encompasses the mall.

Damon Cline covers business for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3486.