Regency Mall (Augusta, Georgia)
Abandoned 1970s-era exterior sign.
|Location||Augusta, Georgia, U.S.|
|Opening date||July 27, 1978|
|Developer||Edward J. DeBartolo|
|No. of stores and services||139 at peak|
|No. of anchor tenants||5|
|Total retail floor area||800,000 square feet|
Regency Mall was a major regional mall in South Augusta, Georgia. Located at 1700 Gordon Highway, Regency Mall was open from 1978 to 2002. It was anchored by J.B. White (now Dillard's), Belk (Belk-Howard, but signed as Belk), Montgomery Ward and Cullum's (later Meyers-Arnold then Upton's), and also featured a three-screen movie General Cinema theatre. Developed by Edward J. DeBartolo and Associates, Regency Mall was Augusta’s first shopping mall, opening one week before Augusta Mall.
Never updated during its lifespan, Regency Mall failed due to crime and security problems, a poor location and a market too small to support two shopping malls. Its anchor stores began to pull out during the 1990s, some of them relocating to the more successful Augusta Mall. Regency’s last remaining anchor, Montgomery Ward, closed when the chain folded in 2001. The rest of the mall closed to the public shortly thereafter, but the buildings remain mostly intact.
Regency Mall was originally planned as part of the “Regency Square” development, which included condominiums, a shopping plaza and a hotel. Frank Barrios, who served as the first manager for Regency Mall, said in 1978 that the mall’s location, at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Gordon Highway, was chosen because it was the center of population for the Central Savannah River Area and had excellent accessibility.
Construction of Regency Mall began in 1976. Montgomery Ward, Belk and J.B. White were the first anchor stores to announce locations at Regency Mall. JCPenney considered building a store at Regency Mall, but decided against it, instead choosing later to move into Augusta Mall. Cullum’s announced in early 1978 that it would build a store at the mall, becoming the fourth anchor.
Regency Mall was configured in a Y-shaped layout. Its surrounding landscape was terraced, providing ground-level entrances to the upper and lower levels. The mall’s interior was decorated in an alabaster motif with brown accents, and its floors were finished in brown-speckled terrazzo tile. Live trees were planted at intervals along the lower-level concourses. The mall’s three wings met at a 28,000-square-foot (2,600 m2) center court, framed by 45-foot (14 m) pillars and featuring a fountain, a 28-foot (9 m) clock tower and a stage area floored in brown tile. Regency Mall had more than 800,000 square feet (70,000 m2) of space; when it opened, it was the largest enclosed shopping mall in Georgia.
Regency Mall’s grand opening took place on July 27, 1978, with 70 of its 139 scheduled stores ready for business. Many of the smaller stores in the mall opened over the following weeks. Cullum’s, still under construction at the time the mall opened, did not open until later in 1978, and Belk’s Regency Mall store was not completed until 1979.
Augusta Mall, seven miles (11 km) from Regency Mall, opened for business on August 3, 1978. Developed by the Rouse Company, Augusta Mall had been in the planning stages since 1972; however, its construction had been delayed due to economic uncertainty. The smaller Augusta Mall had 100 stores but only two anchors, Rich’s and Davison’s; both of these were Atlanta-based chains, while Regency Mall featured a combination of Georgia-based and national chains. However, both malls operated successfully through the 1970s and much of the 1980s. They had drawn large retailers to close their downtown stores and relocate to the malls, and many smaller stores had opened stores in one, or both, of the malls.
Though Regency Mall was the largest mall in Augusta, its location posed problems during the 1990s. Augusta Mall tended to draw shoppers from the central and western portions of Augusta. Regency Mall, located in south Augusta, tended to draw customers from the southern, eastern and northern portions of the Augusta area, and also drew business from service personnel stationed at nearby Fort Gordon.
Regency Mall also suffered by not being located near expressways or interstate highways. In contrast, Augusta Mall was located just off the Bobby Jones Expressway (I-520), and was approximately two miles from Interstate 20. Regency Mall was not near any such thoroughfares; instead, it was located at the intersection of two traditional highways, in a part of town that was slowly deteriorating.
Security at Regency Mall also became an issue as the 1980s wore on, leading to a perception that the mall was not a safe place to visit. Both Augusta Mall and Regency Mall had faced security problems by 1985. But in March 1986, a 16-year-old was abducted from a parking lot at Regency Mall. She was raped and shot four times, and her body was found several days later near Hephzibah, Ga. Three years later, an 18-year-old woman was shot by a man who was hiding in the back seat of her car, leaving her paralyzed; her family filed suit against DeBartolo, claiming that security at Regency Mall was inadequate.
A further blow came in 1990, when Augusta Mall completed a $32 million renovation and expansion. The centerpiece of the expansion was a new Sears store, which replaced the chain’s freestanding store near Broad street at the intersection of Walton Way and 15th Street. In addition, the mall’s interior was updated and expanded, growing from around 90 stores to more than 130 stores. In contrast, Regency Mall remained essentially unchanged from its original configuration, and its interior seemed dark and dated compared to that of its freshened cross-town rival. DeBartolo held out hope that a new fifth anchor store could still become a reality. However, through location, renovation and growth, Augusta Mall was on its way to becoming the region’s dominant mall.
The first anchor store to close at Regency Mall was Upton’s, which occupied the space originally built for Cullum's; its Regency Mall store closed in April 1993. Seven other stores in the mall closed by the end of that year. Some merchants who were leaving the mall said that the mall wasn’t generating enough traffic to justify remaining at the mall. One said she didn’t see the mall “having any kind of future” the way it was. Another merchant claimed that the mall’s management “doesn’t seem to want to work with its tenants.” Though some new businesses moved in, some of these were small businesses instead of franchised outlets; for example, a comic book store moved into a vacant store on the second level. However, the mall was steadily becoming deserted.
DeBartolo Family Associates transferred the mall to mortgage holder Equitable Real Estate in 1995; as part of the deal, a $12.5 million debt owed by DeBartolo was forgiven. Equitable sold the mall in 1997 to Regency Mall, LLC, formed by Raleigh developers Haywood Whichard and Paul Woo, who specialized in buying and reselling distressed mall properties. Whichard and Woo bought the mall, valued at $33.5 million in 1991 tax records, for less for $4.15 million. In hopes of attracting business, lease rates were set as low as $3.50 per square foot, compared to the $9–$18 per square foot charged elsewhere in the surrounding area. Though a few businesses moved to the mall, they weren’t enough to turn business around. The mall continued to lose tenants. Whichard and Woo said that the mall needed to be renovated to attract new tenants, but Woo said that the two weren’t willing to risk the $15 to $30 million such renovations would require.
Other tenants fell as the years passed. Belk closed its Outlet Center at Regency Mall in August 1996. General Cinema closed its three-screen theatre at Regency Mall that same year. Two years later, JB White closed its Regency Mall store and opened a new store at Augusta Mall. Montgomery Ward was left as the mall’s remaining anchor, and the store’s management boarded up its mall entrances to save on heating and cooling costs. The mall’s escalators were shut off to save money, and management scaled back the hours of operation. Even with these and other economic measures, the mall lost money each day it was open. Occupancy was, at most, 35 percent.
Local government officials had eyed Regency Mall for years as a possible location for city and county operations. In 1996, the Augusta Chronicle reported that Augusta Mayor Larry Sconyers and other commissioners conducted a behind-the-scenes effort to buy the mall and relocate government offices there. Though this plan didn’t carry through, another proposal was made two years later to consolidate all of Augusta-Richmond County’s government operations there, and to convert the Belk building into a court facility. Though some in Augusta hailed the plan as an opportunity to revitalize the flagging South Augusta area, critics said that the plan would have contradicted Augusta’s efforts to revitalize the downtown and riverfront areas. The Augusta Chronicle criticized the $90 million proposal as “far-out” and “off-the-wall.” In the end, these plans never went forward.
There appeared to be new life for Regency Mall at the start of 1999, with reports of an impending sale to a developer who planned to convert it into an outlet mall. One report announced prematurely that the mall had been sold to AMC Development, that upscale retailers such as FAO Schwartz and Nike would relocate to the mall, and that the mall would be converted into an entertainment center with amusement park rides, a hotel, an ice rink, specialty shops and office space. However, though AMC and the Whichard-Woo partnership were reportedly close to a deal, the sale never went through. Whichard and Woo then tried to sell the property at auction, but could draw no bids higher than $2.3 million. Whichard finally bought out Woo’s share for $2.7 million in an April 1999 foreclosure auction, but Woo continued to manage the property. Whichard then tried, without success, to sell the property to Augusta-Richmond County. In the meantime, some of the mall’s vacant store space was used by organizers for the Georgia Games.
Montgomery Ward’s parent company announced in December 2000 that it would close all remaining stores in 2001. Regency Mall’s management said that though Montgomery Ward would be closing, the mall would remain open. However, only a handful of stores and offices remained by this time, including Foot Locker, International Formal Wear, a teen clinic, and a substation for the Richmond County Marshals Department. Foot Locker closed its Regency Mall location later that year, and in 2001, the teen clinic closed. International Formal Wear, which had been one of the mall's original tenants in 1978, closed its Regency Mall shop and moved to a Wrightsboro Road storefront. Only the county marshals' substation remained. Though the mall concourse was used for some events, the mall's stores were now closed. The mall itself was finally closed to the public in 2002, and its entrances were boarded up. Though the marshals’ substation remained, the mall was no longer open to the public.
In 2002, Whichard sold his stake in Regency Mall, which included everything but the Montgomery Ward building, to Cardinal Entities of Mattituck, New York for $3.5 million. Ownership of the Montgomery Ward building changed that year, as well, passing to Charleston, South Carolina-based Commercial Property Holdings. Cardinal had hoped to revitalize the mall by offering a lease-purchase package to Augusta-Richmond County for office space, and by attracting new tenants to the mall. Cardinal had plans as well to revitalize the mall's food court. However, these plans were shelved after the local government decided against moving offices to the mall, and in early 2003 Cardinale ended its immediate efforts to market the mall, choosing instead to keep the shopping center closed indefinitely.
In the years following, Cardinal and the county’s licensing and inspection department fell into dispute about the mall’s condition. The local government claimed that Cardinal had not properly maintained the mall property. Cardinal’s property manager maintained that the mall had a full-time maintenance worker, and that a crew had repaired a leaky roof and cleaned mold out of the mall’s interior.
A cloudy future
Many ideas for the future of Regency Mall have been proposed over the last decade. Though the mall has suffered from vandalism and exterior deterioration, it remains structurally sound. Cardinal Entities estimates the property’s value at $30 to $40 million, but its property manager has said there has been little interest in the property. There is a general consensus that Regency Mall will most likely never again operate as a major regional shopping center, and that it will either be adapted to new use or demolished to make way for another project.
One proposal for Regency Mall's reuse grew out of a series of public forums in 1999 and 2000. This plan would have redeveloped the mall into a combination of park and retail space arranged in a "village" streetscape format. The enclosed mall concourse would have been demolished, and the large anchor stores would have been reconfigured into shopping and office space with restyled facades. Other new buildings would have been constructed; the basin of Rocky Creek, walled into a concrete viaduct when the mall was built, would have been restored to a more natural appearance; and park and recreation space would have been made part of the site. This proposal, however, did not come to pass.
The Regency Mall property was also proposed as the site of a civic arena. However, Augusta-Richmond County voters defeated a local-option sales tax issue in 2004 that would have funded construction of a sports arena on the Regency Mall site.
In July 2006, Macedonia Baptist Church of Augusta announced that it had secured a lease-purchase agreement on the former Montgomery Ward building and 15 acres (61,000 m2) of parking. The church revealed plans to turn the building into a sanctuary for up to 3,000 worshippers, a gymnasium, classrooms, a bookstore and a coffee shop. Pastor Dr. Gregory Fuller told the Augusta Chronicle that the church was in negotiations with the owners of the rest of the mall, and that "Our hope and aim is to possess the entire mall." However, the plan did not come to pass. In 2007, Cardinale purchased the Montgomery Ward property, thereby completing its purchase of the entire mall.
The future of Regency Mall has been a frequent issue in Augusta-Richmond County elections. Helen Blocker-Adams, a 2006 candidate for Georgia House District 120 against incumbent Quincy Murphy, made the revitalization of Regency Mall the centerpiece of her campaign. In December 2008, Augusta-Richmond County made a proposal to use $8 million from the next phase of Augusta’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) to demolish the mall and clear the property for development. Tax dollars would be used only for demolition. More recently, the mall property's proximity to Rocky Creek, which lies in a "priority corridor" of the Augusta master plan, has prompted efforts by local officials to seek the property's redevelopment.
Regency Mall lost its last tenant when the marshals' substation moved out in March 2011. That June, a team of county inspectors, in an effort to determine if Regency Mall was in violation of Augusta-Richmond County's abandoned properties ordinance, surveyed the mall's interior and found damage from vandalism, but no mold. Despite the county's desire to redevelop the property, Cardinal continues to market Regency Mall at a price of $52.5 million; though the company reports several firms have expressed interest, no buyer has yet surfaced.
In August 2012, WRDW-TV reported on small fires being set on the mall's property. A reporter and cameraman from the television station broke into the mall to shoot footage, and did this to display how easy it is to get inside the abandoned shopping center.
As of December 2013, the mall has been completely gutted of all interior walls, store fronts and floors leaving nothing but big open spaces inside. All entrances have been cinder-blocked off and the entire building is being offered for lease.
- Bankston, John (2001-11-05). "Store Owner in Augusta, Ga., Struggles in Once-Thriving Shopping Center". The Augusta Chronicle.
- ”Opens to Public,” Augusta Chronicle 26 April 1975: 5B
- John Sorrells, “’Concept to Completion’ Philosophy Used For Mall,” Augusta Chronicle 25 May 1978: 3D
- Harold Reames, “New Mall Will Create 2,800 Jobs,” Augusta Chronicle 29 September 1976: A1
- Frank Stanfield, “Cullum’s Will Locate Store in Regency Mall,” Augusta Chronicle 3 March 1978: 2B
- ”Center Court Offers Special Features,” Augusta Chronicle Regency Mall Section 27 July 1978: 3
- ”Regency Mall State’s Largest,” Augusta Chronicle 21 May 1978: 1C
- John Sorrells, “Regency Mall To Open For Business Today,” Augusta Chronicle 27 July 1978: 1A
- Belk advertisement, Augusta Chronicle Regency Mall Section 27 July 1978: 8-9.
- Bill Pratt, “Richmond Site Chosen For $10 Million Mall,” Augusta Chronicle 19 August 1976: 1A
- For further analysis, see John Hally's commentary on Regency Mall, at http://www.deadmalls.com/malls/regency_mall.html
- "Mall Incidents," Augusta Chronicle 18 June 1999, available at http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/061899/met_045-8148.001.shtml
- Joan Hennessy, “Girl’s Body Found Near Hephzibah,” Augusta Chronicle 16 March 1986: 1A. Alexander Williams was found guilty of murdering the victim and was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2002, one week before his scheduled execution. He was found dead in his jail cell that November, an apparent suicide. See Ashlee Griggs, "Killer of Teen Dies in Prison," Augusta Chronicle 26 November 2002: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/112602/met_155-6782.000.shtml
- Cas Shearis, “Victim’s Family Relieved Case Is Over, But Says Money Can’t Ease Pain,” Augusta Chronicle 15 March 1991: 1B.
- Jeff Turner, “Mall Opens Massive Expansion,” Augusta Chronicle 7 March 1990: 1A.
- Greg Guest, “10 Years Later, Augusta Malls Keep Growing,” Augusta Chronicle 3 July 1988: 1E
- Cassandra P. Foust, “Seven Stores Vacate Regency,” Augusta Chronicle 5 January 1994: 6C.
- Sylvia Cooper and Donna W. Rogers, “Regency Mall Now Has New Ownership,” Augusta Chronicle 6 March 1997: 1A. Whichard was once quoted as saying, "Malls are like bananas. You buy them at one price and sell them at another. Some of those go bad. Those you throw out." See Frank Witsil, "Restoring Regency," Augusta Business Chronicle 5 July 1999: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/070599/abc_regency.shtml
- Frank Witsil, "Want To Buy A Mall?" Augusta Chronicle 24 February 1999: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/022499/bus_124-5756.shtml
- ”Regency Mall Chronology,” Augusta Chronicle 6 March 1997:7A.
- Albert Ross Jr., "Curtain Falls On Regency 8," Augusta Chronicle 30 September 2000: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/093000/bus_069-4760.000.shtml
- Donna W. Rogers and Willie Mae Worthey, "Selling It All," Augusta Chronicle 3 January 1998: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/010398/jbwhite.shtml
- Frank Witsil, "Options Considered For Regency Mall," Augusta Chronicle 25 September 1998: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/092598/bus_124-3449.shtml
- ”Regency Mall Chronology,” Augusta Chronicle 6 March 1997:7A
- "Rule Out Regency Move," Augusta Chronicle 10 May 1998: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/051098/opi_089-4970.shtml
- Damon Cline, "Mall Owners Negotiate Sale," Augusta Chronicle 20 January 1999: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/012099/bus_129-1535.001.shtml
- Frank Witsil, "Mall: Investor Eyeing Family Center," Augusta Chronicle 23 January 1999: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/012399/bus_193-2377.000.shtml
- Frank Witsil, "Regency Mall's Fate Unclear," Augusta Chronicle 3 March 1999: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/030399/bus_124-6223.shtml
- Frank Witsil, "Mall Inches Closer To A Sale," Augusta Chronicle 13 April 1999: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/041399/bus_045-8008.001.shtml
- Alisa DeMao, "Games Committee Occupies Empty Regency Mall Store," Augusta Chronicle 18 July 1999: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/071899/gag_124-4091.shtml
- Williamson, Eric (2001-01-23). "Date Set In Layoffs At Wards". Augusta Chronicle.
- Ross, Albert Jr. (2000-08-01). "Regency Mall Has An Empty Feeling". Augusta Chronicle.
- Eckenrode, Vicky (2003-01-06). "Mall Owners Halt Marketing". Augusta Chronicle.
- Neill, Brian (13–19 October 2005). "Will Anything Become of Regency Mall?". Metro Spirit.
- "A Redevelopment Strategy for Regency Mall and the Surrounding Area" (PDF).
- Cooper, Sylvia (2004-11-03). "Special Tax Drops Dead At Polls". Augusta Chronicle.
- Norton, Virginia (2006-07-29). "Macedonia Baptist Church Has Expansion Plans". Augusta Chronicle.
- Edwards, Johnny (2009-09-24). "Owner says buyer for Regency Mall is possible". Augusta Chronicle.
- Cooper, Sylvia (2006-10-16). "Safety Leads Murphy's Agenda; Rival Puts Revitalization Number One". Augusta Chronicle.
- Eskola, George (2008-12-17). "Regency Mall could see sales tax money". WJBF NewsChannel 6.
- McCord, Susan (2011-06-14). "Potential buyer slows demolition of Regency". Augusta Chronicle.
- McCord, Susan (2011-06-14). "Officials find no mold in Regency". Augusta Chronicle.
- Anderson, Meredith (28 August 2012). "Regency Mall closed but not 'abandoned'". WRDW-TV. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
- Deadmalls.com write up on the mall (with photos)
- Turning Out The Lights At Regency Mall, George Eskola, WJBF-TV