Almost every year for the past 20 years, the subject of the former site of Regency Mall rears its ugly head.
This year is no exception.
Before Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett leaves office at the end of this year, he is attempting to make one final stab at trying to turn that vacant piece of property around.
Later this week, commissioners are scheduled to take a bus tour of south Augusta and discuss the possibility of creating a South Augusta Development Authority to help promote economic development in the area.
Lockett is hoping that this proposed group will find a new use for the former Regency Mall site.
Unfortunately, Lockett is likely just dreaming.
With an overinflated asking price of $50 million by the owners of the former mall, the reality is that the city’s hands are pretty much tied in this matter.
“This mall is an ugly eyesore to the people who live in the community and the people who go up and down Deans Bridge and Gordon Highway,” Lockett has repeatedly said over the years. “The owners obviously have made no attempt whatsoever to try and sell the property or to upgrade the property.”
Ever since taking office, Lockett has consistently asked his colleagues to pressure the mall’s property owners, New York-based Cardinale Holdings LLC, to take some kind of action regarding the Regency Mall site.
He has even suggested the possibility of using of eminent domain.
But nothing ever happens.
The former mall remains empty. A sad reminder of what once was in south Augusta.
In its heyday, Regency Mall was heralded as a unique shopping experience, unparalleled by anything in the surrounding area.
In fact, the mall, built by shopping center magnate Edward J. DeBartolo, was billed as the largest in Georgia at the time it opened its doors in 1978.
But through the years, the facade windows — so modern in appearance when the mall first opened — were reduced to shattered glass and boarded up.
Now, Regency Mall is abandoned and just a shell of the once prominent mall that was home to more than 70 retail stores.
Some blamed a poor location away from an interstate for Regency’s demise; others, its competition with Augusta Mall, in the western section of Augusta — where dollars flowed more freely.
Regardless of the reason, Augusta has become saddled with the eyesore that is Regency Mall that still shows no signs of improving.
So will there ever be any solution for the former mall?
For almost two decades, there have been myriad proposals for the property.
More than 10 years ago, the city considered it for the site of the future judicial center. Then, there were plans to convert the property into mixed-use residential/office space.
Those plans only got as far as the drawing board.
Finally, The Augusta Chronicle publisher William S. Morris III proposed an $80 million sports arena, nicknamed the “Billy Barn,” to be built on the 70-acre site in 2004.
But none of those plans ever panned out.
All the while, the mall’s current owner, New York-based Cardinale Holdings LLC, has kept the property in complete limbo with an asking price that has been as high as more than $50 million.
With that kind of asking price, there will never be any potential buyers for the former Regency Mall.
The memories of that mall will eventually fade away as Augusta’s population continues to age.
As the trees grow taller around the enormous property, many newcomers to the Garden City won’t even be aware of Regency Mall’s existence.
But if nothing is ever done to that property in south Augusta, it will be a huge political defeat for all of those commissioners who have representing that region for so many years.
Everyone from former Augusta commissioners J.B. Powell, Ulmer Bridges, Moses Todd, Jimmy Smith, Bobby Hankerson, Andy Cheek, Richard Colclough and now Bill Lockett have been unable to transform that space, often called the center of the county, into anything beneficial.
Regency Mall has become the image of all that is wrong with south Augusta.
The sad truth is there are thousands of native Augustans who have extremely fond memories of Regency Mall.
For many, that mall is where they grew up.
Whether it was enjoying a fresh slice of pepperoni pizza with their friends at Dino’s Pizza or climbing up on the little concrete animals in the kids’ play area located at the bottom of the mall’s staircase, Regency Mall was once a magical place.
But now it is simply a mall with a past and no foreseeable future.