Originally created 01/27/99

Regency Mall to be auctioned off



Although local investors claim they are close to finalizing a deal to buy Regency Mall, the retail center's owners said Tuesday they plan to sell it at a public auction next month.

"The fact is nobody's put any hard money down," said Paul Woo, one of the mall's owners. "We don't have any offers that are credible."

And if no one comes up with the cash, Mr. Woo said, there will be an auction on Feb. 24. The owners are not being forced to sell, he pointed out. And they do not have to accept the highest bidder's offer.

Confusion about the mall's negotiations have stemmed from conflicting reports from potential buyers and the sellers.

Last week mall general manager Belle B. Lambert released a statement that touted the pending sale of Regency Mall to a local developer, AMC Development Limited. Ms. Lambert said she was acting as an independent consultant on behalf of the potential buyers.

The statement outlined a vague, but ambitious plan for the mall that includes the development of an entertainment center, food court, new entrance, ice skating rink, hotel, movie theater and professional offices.

But Mr. Woo said he never authorized Ms. Lambert's statement.

"This is highly improper and a clear case of conflict of interest," he said Tuesday.

Ms. Lambert, who was not at work Tuesday morning, did not immediately return two calls to her home. Mr. Woo said he had not been able to reach her either.

Bill Blankenship, AMC Development's chief executive officer and chief financial officer, said Tuesday that his group is still pursing plans to make a deal. He is trying to get his financing together, he said.

"If we can accomplish it..." he said. "If we can't, we tried our best."

He does not plan to attend the auction or send anyone to it, he said.

The deal that Mr. Blankenship proposes may still materialize, Mr. Woo said.

"But from a seller's standpoint, it's nothing unless you put your money where your mouth is," he said.

Regency Mall, built in 1978 as Augusta's first enclosed mall, was at one-time billed as Georgia's largest mall. It has more than 800,000 square feet of retail space. Only a dozen retailers are left now.

Originally developed by the Debartolo family, stores began leaving the mall in the early 1990's. Mall ownership was transferred to mortgage holder Equitable Real Estate Investment Management Inc. of Atlanta in 1995.

Mr. Woo and his his partner, Haywood Whichard, bought Regency Mall in 1997.

Neither of them have mall redevelopment experience, Mr. Woo acknowledged.

The owners planned to sell the mall to the Augusta Richmond County consolidated government, which at one time had a plan to use as office space. They also looked at the possibility of turning it into an outlet-type mall. That did not happen.

Consultants estimated it would cost $15 million to $30 million to redevelop the mall, Mr. Woo said. Now, it is losing money every day it is open.

"It's going to take a lot of money, a lot of public relations to turn it around and create the kind of image we need," he said.

Frank Witsil can be reached at (706) 823-3352.