Old mall's potential has yet to be seen

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Weeds sprout from the cracks in Regency Mall's once-crowded parking lot. Colorful signs have faded, and police patrolling its empty driveways advise motorists not to tarry.

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Many of the azaleas and dogwoods surrounding Regency Mall have survived despite the neglect that is evident in and around the building.  Jim Blaylock/Staff
Jim Blaylock/Staff
Many of the azaleas and dogwoods surrounding Regency Mall have survived despite the neglect that is evident in and around the building.

Still, six years since its last anchor store closed, Augusta's first mall continues to attract attention for three reasons:

Location. Location. Location.

Strategically located at Gordon Highway and U.S. Highway 1, the mall once billed as Georgia's largest is the quick-answer site for a variety of potential developments, from a sports arena to a Christian college.

The 72 acres of vacant indoor retail space and sprawling, cracked pavement also have been imagined as a place sanctified enough to be a mega-church or sufficiently gritty to hold a boisterous flea market.

To those watching and wondering when, if anything, would pick up at the crumbling monument to a bygone shopping era, it has been tough to keep up with the ideas being tossed around.

J. Harold Dye, 83, who watched the mall's rise and fall from his neighborhood overlooking it on a hill off Deans Bridge Road, has heard all the rumors and plans. He said it would be nice if one of them actually worked.

"It would be great to see something develop there instead of sitting there falling in on itself," he said.

Yet nothing has.

About seven years of talk that government offices would be housed there amounted to nothing. And a proposed replacement for the old civic center downtown was rebuked by voters unwilling to support it in a 2004 referendum.

There have been other expectations that haven't been held in such a public spotlight but also have gone unfulfilled.

About five years ago, a Christian university had the mall under contract, but that fell apart, said Mark Axler, who manages the property for its current owner.

There also was talk about making it a massive call center at one point, but that fizzled, too.

Walter Sprouse, the executive director of the Richmond County Development Authority, said the organization has been actively trying to find a use for the building, but it's a tough sell.

The authority, charged with improving the city's business and economy, has shown the mall to potential buyers twice in the last four years, Mr. Sprouse said.

Once it was to a company that redevelops old malls, and another time it was to a group that was interested in using Regency for a federal government purpose, he said.

The development authority also traveled to Florida last year to visit a "festival marketplace" to see if that might be a potential use, but there's still no partying going on at the mall.

Since its decline, there has always been an idea floating out there, and everyone has an opinion about what the site could be, Mr. Sprouse said.

"I think if you go out and ask 15 different people what needs to be done with the Regency Mall, you'll get 15 different answers," he said.

Even now, Macedonia Baptist Church is clinging to a plan to open a satellite campus there after having the vacant property under contract for almost a year.

Johnnie Settles, the church's administrator, said he still envisions a sprawling multiuse facility with the potential for day care, offices and classrooms.

But the church has yet to get the first leg of its plan off the ground. Mr. Settles said the church is trying to determine how the campus would be financed.

A big part of the mall's problem has been the property's split ownership, Mr. Sprouse said.

After Montgomery Ward closed in 2001, the mall was split between an Athens businessman and a Mattituck, N.Y.-based company called Cardinale Real Estate, which controls everything but the Ward building, or about 86 percent of the property at the mall.

While the Montgomery Ward building has been sold again and actively marketed over the past three years, the vast majority of the property has sat dark, with little indication from its owner about the company's intentions.

After the city government gave up on the idea of moving offices to the mall, the Cardinale group announced in 2003 that it would stop marketing its property and hold on to it as a long-term investment.

Its only current tenant is the county Marshal's Office.

Sometimes, Mr. Sprouse explained, it's worth it for companies to take a loss on inactive property while they wait to see if something happens.

In the meantime, the property's exterior has visibly deteriorated.

Its shattered windows, graffiti-strewn walls and overgrown weeds have become an eyesore, said Carl Lawson, 45, who works at a karaoke bar across the street from the dead mall.

"It's just a sore thumb. It's a big building just sitting there," he said.

Police reported a dog fight being held there in November, and the city recently warned the mall's owners to clean up the property, said Pam Costabile, the code enforcement supervisor.

Mr. Axler, the regional vice president for Cardinale Real Estate, said the company is going to pay for some cosmetic work to be done.

He said the real estate group will replace the dilapidated road signs and will fill in the cracks in the parking lot.

The interior, Mr. Axler said, is in excellent shape.

He also said the owner has plans to begin marketing the property again.

Mr. Axler said the company is closer than it has ever been to making something happen - a common, if shaky, assurance in the real estate world.

But he visited the site twice in March and had plans to make another trip this week.

Mr. Axler also said he has turned down an offer for the site from an Atlanta mall company. But he is considering a joint-venture with another group that wants to do retail.

Whether the plan works out or ends up in the scrap heap with other broken ideas for the mall is unclear.

If it does, there will likely be another idea or plan that will follow, because few are willing to give up on the building.

Mr. Sprouse said too many times he has done that in his career in development only to see an investor make something out of what appeared to be nothing.

"You and I ride by it and say, maybe they should tear it down and just use the land," Mr. Sprouse said.

However, that doesn't matter because at the end of the day "the best use for that property is what an investor sees."

Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or justin.boron@augustachronicle.com.

REGENCY MALL

July 27, 1978: Regency Mall, Augusta's first enclosed mall and the largest in Georgia, has its grand opening.


Aug. 3, 1978: Augusta Mall opens on Wrightsboro Road.


March 1986: Aleta Carol Bunch is abducted from Regency Mall. The 16-year-old is later found shot to death and dumped in the woods near Hephzibah. Fears about crime and poor security plague the mall.


April 1993: Upton's Department Store abruptly closes.


1989-94: Retail tenants complain of low traffic, and many vacate at the end of their leases.


May 1995: The Edward J. DeBartolo family, the mall's original owner, sells it to a mortgage firm in Atlanta.


1996: Consolidated government officials discuss buying the mall to house federal offices.


September 1996: Belk Outlet Store closes.


Dec. 11, 1996: Partners Hayward Whichard and Paul Woo become new owners of Regency Mall.


2001: Montgomery Ward, the final anchor store, closes.


2003: The mall's newest owners, Cardinale Real Estate, announce that the defunct shopping center will remain empty indefinitely after the city decides against locating offices there.


July 2005: Bond initiative to build an entertainment complex fails.


July 2006: Macedonia Baptist Church, with a congregation of 2,600, announces plans to open a satellite campus for the church by April.


March 2007: The Montgomery Ward space is still under contract with Macedonia Baptist, but the church's administrator said no work has been done to the site to open it.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle archives

Comments (23) Add comment
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iletuknow
8
Points
iletuknow 04/15/07 - 02:08 am
0
0
It's finished as a location

It's finished as a location to lure shoppers. It's location is less attractive now than when it closed.

Edgefield
0
Points
Edgefield 04/15/07 - 03:29 am
0
0
Anyone in development will

Anyone in development will tell you, "Go where you market is". In that case the only thing that will make it there will be a prision.

AugustaHeph homeowner
0
Points
AugustaHeph homeowner 04/15/07 - 06:33 am
0
0
I believ the City-County

I believ the City-County Government should be under one roof. It is a shame that big parking lot is sitting there and the building, my goodness, I think the Marble Palace Peyton Place, Sheriffs' Dept. and all others would have plenty of room to stay separate but yet under one roof. The Marble Palace workers are so scared they may actually be seen have their little affairs and not working and really have to do work. As for the 401 area, the place is eat up with mold, mildew and other micros, that are making people sick daily. Why not try to help these employees, it may cut down on call-ins, unless these people are just using this for an excuse to play and still get paid. I know for a fact some were very sick from the building. You would have purchasing, water dept, revenue dept, license dept, voters registrations and goodness all the others. Let's do something about this Mayor Copenhaver. Please do NOT LET THE COMMISSIONERS HANDLE THIS ONE. We know what they will say!
Let's make it happen, DO WHATEVER IT TAKES!

brianba22
0
Points
brianba22 04/15/07 - 07:59 am
0
0
It has great memories for me

It has great memories for me there, its sad to come home and see what its come to. SOMETHING needs to be there, and it needs to be a unified "something". It does not need a church on one end, a police office on one, with retail in the middle. How about some "Outlet Stores" inside there? Like Tanger Outlets, except they'd be housed inside instead of their traditional outdoor shops?

tyrone jenkins
0
Points
tyrone jenkins 04/15/07 - 08:19 am
0
0
I agree with Edgefield.

I agree with Edgefield.

fran
1
Points
fran 04/15/07 - 08:28 am
0
0
Instead of a prison why not

Instead of a prison why not solicit the United States Secret Service, Federal Law Enforcement Training, or the Department of Homeland Security to use the mall as an all inclusive training center. More than one agency could use the facility and there's plenty of room for educational purposes, offices, a firing range, tactical training, and an exercise facility.

OUTSIDE THE BOX
1
Points
OUTSIDE THE BOX 04/15/07 - 08:42 am
0
0
I have never seen a community

I have never seen a community so willing to cut off it nose to spite its face. On one hand we want to build up this location and on the other hand we want to bash south Augusta. There are some who would have you believe that South Augusta is the worst thing going. Come on Augusta what is it that you really want?

xqwbv2
3
Points
xqwbv2 04/15/07 - 09:39 am
0
0
How about demolish the entire

How about demolish the entire structure and turn the place into a secured, gated public park, with recreational facilities, walking tracks, a pool, a gym and other structures so that Augustans can enjoy the outdoors and get fit? Call it Regency Park. Lord knows that part of town needs some adequate green space. And yes, put an RCSO substation there too and keep a Marshal's station there so that if anyone tries to act the fool, they'll get a swift trip to 401.

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 04/15/07 - 09:45 am
0
0
Nothing wrong with south

Nothing wrong with south Augusta. Look at the homes in Walton Acres, very nice middle income neighborhoods. Some of the people just act like they don't care what they do, how they look or how they act. Change that and the whole persona of the area changes. But you have people with that attitude all over. I do business in south Augusta and I find the homeowners to be very nice people. It's just the rogues that give the image.

MyOpinion2
5
Points
MyOpinion2 04/15/07 - 11:09 am
0
0
I agree, demolish the entire

I agree, demolish the entire area and start from scratch. (Believe I read/heard there is BLACK MOLD all thru the mall.) Build small and large buildings housing many different things. Perhaps an office building or two. a Medical Center, a gym, spa, hair salons, specialty shops, etc. No eateries, this part of Augusta in my opinion keeps sub-standerd care of their restaurants and Supermarkets. Continue the planning where the K-mart is across the street. Augusta needs upgrades. This would be a great location for your housing development.

HillGuy
8
Points
HillGuy 04/15/07 - 12:36 pm
0
0
Demolish the structure..and

Demolish the structure..and then the property might be more attractive to developers. At least it would get rid of an eyesore. I just don't see the property being commercially viable though. Perhaps it could be a large technology magnet school .. or it could just be transformed into a park.

babydoll1
11
Points
babydoll1 04/15/07 - 12:50 pm
0
0
I agree just tear it down and

I agree just tear it down and start over. That way the building is gone and something will be sitting in it's place. And we all know that it is cheaper to build something new than to repair something old and worn out.

Ron Martin CPP
2
Points
Ron Martin CPP 04/15/07 - 02:06 pm
0
0
At this point, I do not think

At this point, I do not think it is structuraly sound. Therefore, it should be torn down. Establishing the site as an up scale conference center with hotel facilities would be a good option. If government employees can go to the middle of West Virginia for training, why not Augusta. The office of Personel Management has two centers East and west. Why not South? With Fort Godon as the center for excellence for Signal and Computer sciences, establishing a conference center focused towards technology is worth looking into. Upon my return to Augusta, I would like see the Regency Mall area come from being an eye-sore into eye candy.

ONLY THE TRUTH
2
Points
ONLY THE TRUTH 04/15/07 - 02:20 pm
0
0
How about a new high school

How about a new high school there with offices.

OUTSIDE THE BOX
1
Points
OUTSIDE THE BOX 04/15/07 - 04:41 pm
0
0
Augusta has spoken now will

Augusta has spoken now will the powers that be listen?

Captain Awesome
0
Points
Captain Awesome 04/15/07 - 06:00 pm
0
0
Maybe it should be turned

Maybe it should be turned into an 'enterprise incubator' or something of that nature. It could be redeveloped with the city to make cheaper office space (with rates that would be graduated back to market rent/lease over time). It would be great to bring in some more IT, research jobs or maybe some other offices into the area.

luckie
2
Points
luckie 04/15/07 - 06:07 pm
0
0
I say make the Regency Mall

I say make the Regency Mall another beautiful Regal Theatre since the old one by Burlington's closed down.

luckie
2
Points
luckie 04/15/07 - 06:08 pm
0
0
By the way, years ago, I use

By the way, years ago, I use to go to the theatre in the mall and I would go to the one in the rear of Regency Mall. I do not live in south augusta anymore (haha) but when I did it was convenient.

highhighbyebye
0
Points
highhighbyebye 04/15/07 - 07:09 pm
0
0
Unless current city officials

Unless current city officials change or are voted out of office the only thing Regency mall will ever be is a monument to the downfall of South Augusta. Someone should put up a plaque that reads "our future dream West-Augusta live on."

Ga Peach
1
Points
Ga Peach 04/16/07 - 07:19 am
0
0
Firefighters are the true

Firefighters are the true heroes

TEDDY1
0
Points
TEDDY1 04/16/07 - 08:39 am
0
0
let it burn

let it burn

nutloves23
0
Points
nutloves23 04/16/07 - 08:58 am
0
0
how,s about a village with

how,s about a village with shopping,houses,etc, like a big city
(birksdale village).

BoldTruth
0
Points
BoldTruth 04/16/07 - 10:05 am
0
0
How about just turning it

How about just turning it into a casino which would surely attract many tourist and area residents alike. The real problem is that the owners of this space are asking for a price that is way to expensive 20 million plus.

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