REGENCY MALL: AUGUSTA, GA
John Hally's Commentary:
Posted September 28, 2003 (user submitted)
To offer another angle as to why the Regency Mall had a short-lived life, the importance of area demographics should be considered. Augusta is primarily five parts: Central, West, East, North, and South. North Augusta is actually located in South Carolina whereas the other four sections of Augusta are situated on the Georgia side of the Savannah River.
The Regency Mall and Augusta Mall both opened in the same year, but served different sections of the city. The Augusta Mall was located in West Augusta, and drew heavily from this area as well as Central Augusta. The Regency Mall was located in South Augusta and served primarily the southern part of the city as well as drawing heavily from the service member population of Fort Gordon. Granted there was a cross-over factor where people from the west visited the Regency Mall and people from the south visited the Augusta Mall, but this factor was not enough to sustain viability in regards to the mall in the southern portion of the city.
Along with the four primary sections of Augusta came varying income levels which should've played a huge part in the initial phase of planning which stores to place in the Regency Mall. Each part of this city had differing income levels at the time the mall was opened: the southern portion had moderate income levels, the eastern portion low income levels, while the central and western portions had the highest income levels. While there was probably a sufficient belief amongst planners that there was enough purchasing power within families who lived closest to the mall to justify building it, the initial offering of stores did not match the buying habits of these customers.
Of the several major anchors of the mall, only one was really capable and somewhat successful in serving the regions of South Augusta and Fort Gordon: Montgomery Ward. The other major anchors while seemingly necessary for the mall's continued success, provided merchandise lines that were somewhat impractical if considering the disposable income levels of the areas the mall immediately served. Stores such as Cullum's, Upton's, Belk's, and JB White's all offered product lines that were more appropriately suitable for upper-income families, something that at the time was not in a high abundance in the southern portion of Augusta. They even had a fur coat store in the mall which was ludicrous
when you consider that the majority of people on the south side had neither the inclination nor income with which to purchase a fur coat. Granted there were various stores over the years at the Regency Mall that were successful, but the anchors were the main entities driving traffic to the mall, and when these began failing, the end wasn't far behind for the smaller guys. In summary, the Regency Mall had anchors that were more directed at wealthier customers that lived in Central and Western Augusta versus the less affluent area of South Augusta.
One last potential reason for the mall's demise was an incident that occurred back in 1986. A sixteen-year old woman was abducted from the Regency Mall parking lot, raped, and shot in the head four times. The murderer was caught, sentenced to death, only to have his sentence stayed indefinitely due to the mental illness of the criminal. The crime attracted a media frenzy that focused on the lax security at the mall which was the turning point of the public's perception regarding the shopping complex. At the time, the mall was still thriving, but continued attention rightfully brought on by the media of subsequent crimes at the complex eventually assisted in slowly bringing the life of the Regency Mall to an end.
Josh Riggs' Commentary:
Posted August 16, 2003 (user submitted)
Although the Regency Mall is only an hour and a half away from my house, it was not until as a teen in the middle 90s that I first visited. (Any shopping we couldn't do in town we usually did in Savannah, which was only an easy hour's drive.) The mall was already noticeably hurting at this time. Upton's, one of the four major anchors, had closed leaving a large dark spot in the mall. Some neighboring smaller stores had also closed. The kind of people hanging around the mall made me feel a little uneasy, even though it was a busy Saturday afternoon and my family was with me. The mall was in decent condition, although it didn't appear as it had received anything much in the way of updating over the years. Though the mall was clearly in decline, I was still surprised and saddened to see it completely closed a few years later when I passed through town.
July 27, 1978: Mall developers Edward J. DeBartolo & Corp. open the Regency Mall, thus beating Rouse & Co. in the race to build Augusta's first enclosed shopping mall. It is located prominantly on a hill at the busy intersection of Deans Bridge Road & the Gordon Highway in South Augusta. With over 800,000 square feet in its two levels, Regency is considered Georgia's largest shopping mall. The mall is anchored by Montgomery Ward's, J.B. White, Belk, and Cullum's. A three screen movie theater is added later. At opening day, 70% of Regency's 139 stores are already filled. The Regency Mall would be Augusta's only shopping mall for just one week.
Aug. 3, 1978: Rouse Co. opens the Augusta Mall just off Bobby Jones Expressway (I-520) on Wrightsboro Road on the western side of town. Like Regency, it has two levels, but only two anchors: Rich's and Davison's (later to become Macy's). Augusta Mall has 100 stores.
DeBartolo's manager of mall operations predicts "good, friendly competition" but thought Augusta could support two malls, otherwise people wouldn't have put up all the money it took to build them.
The Regency Mall does well through the 80s, but as more people begin to move into the newer western suburbs, the neighborhood around the mall begins to decline and decay. People begin to feel unsafe at the mall. Also, the facility has seen no major changes over the years, giving the mall a dated feel. The Augusta Mall, however, sees several expansions and renovations during the 80s & 90s. (JCPenney added late 80s, Sears 1990, JB White, 1998)
1993: Upton's and seven other stores close at Regency this year - the first real sign that the mall is in trouble
1995: Ownership is transfered to Equitable Real Estate Mgmt. of Atlanta. DeBartolo's $12.5mln debt is forgiven
1996: Augusta/Richmond County Consolidated Gov't considers plan to buy or lease office space at the ailing mall
1997: Raleigh businessmen Haywood Whichard & Paul Woo buy the mall property (excluding Mont. Ward & Belk bldgs.) for $4.15 mln (1991 Tax Records had valued the property at $33.5mln) They both admit to knowing nothing about revitalizing a mall. In an attempt to fill the 500,000 vacant square feet, rates are set as low as $3.50 per sq. ft. (other retail space in the region goes for $9 - $18 sq. ft) A few local businesses move in, including a marine shop, but it is not enough. As managing owner, Woo would like to see the mall renovated, but he doesn't have the $30 mln. to risk it would take to do it with.
1998: JB White opens it new store at Augusta Mall and closes its Reg. Mall location.
Wards', Regency's last remaining anchor boards up its mall entrance to save on heating and air-conditioning
- Escalators are shut off to save electricity.
- The mall loses money every day it is open.
1999: Jan: AMC Development announces it wants to buy the mall and turn it into an entertainment center with amusement park rides, an ice rink, speciality stores, and office space. Nothing ever materializes.
Whichard & Woo disagree about how best to cut their losses. An attempt to auction is made but the highest offer is too low (only about $2 mln.) In April, Whichard buys Woo's share for $2.7mln. and tries in vain to get Augusta-Richmond County to buy it.
Interesting quote from Whichard: "Malls are like bananas - You get some at one price and get rid of them at another. Some of them go bad. Those you throw out."
Dec. 29, 2000: Montgomery Ward's announces it will close all stores in 2001. Though mall management said even though Ward's was closing - it didn't mean the whole mall was going to. All thats left by now, though is a Foot Locker, a Teen Clinic, and a Richmond Co. Marshal's office. They leave and the mall becomes completely vacant. All entrances, save for Ward's are boarded up.
Many suggestions have been made for Regency Mall over the last few years. There was opposition to move county offices to the mall for fear it would adversely affect downtown. AMC evidently didn't have the finances needed for its planned entertainment complex. Others have suggested it be used for a school, arena, town center, office park, back-room call center, etc..
One thing is clear though - something must be done with this 75 acre blight on Augusta's urban landscape before the mall property decays any further. It's already creepy enough as it is.
James L.'s Commentary:
Posted July 31, 2003 (user submitted)
As I was driving around Augusta, GA coming back from a long trip, I stumbled upon one truly dead mall. Never in my life had I passed through this area before, but it was clearly an area that has seen demographic change and has more than its share of 1970's era strip malls. I noticed the mall right away as I looked up on the hill from the red light at the intersection of Deans Bridge Road and Gordon Hwy west of Augusta. It was pretty easy to figure something was wrong when the Montgomery Ward sign was still in place.
Thus, I continued through the intersection and made a left over a bridge over Rocky Creek, which was very swollen from recent heavy rain and continued up the hill. It was a very spooky looking mall and perfectly fit the description of the 1970's mall with dark glass and a mixture of a age-stained white exterior and brick on much of the mall.
First pulling in, part of the marquee was missing, so at first I couldn't tell the name of the mall and I came up to a small directory sign that had everything store painted over except for Montgomery Ward. One of the first things that stood out were the rotten looking boards covering all the entrances, though no boards covered the entrance to Montgomery Ward. Montgomery Ward was the only store with a sign still up and the entrance featured a hideous red tile between the entrance doors. Circling around, I noticed the abandoned movie theater (I believe it was an AMC) to the rear and another marquee still in tact with the name "Regency Mall" on it on the east entrance. I also noticed the odd bus stop still remaining though the mall was long gone. A recent article mentioned complaints about the bus stop sitting in front of the dead mall.
As I circled the place, I could not figure out what else had been there except for the theaters and the Montgomery Ward, but I went home to find out as much as I could about the place, so this is what I gather:
Regency Mall was the first enclosed regional mall in Augusta, built by DeBartolo, then premier mall developers. It opened for business in 1978 with three anchors and over 90 stores: Montgomery Ward, Belk and J.B. White, a local South Carolina based chain. The mall also featured two levels (the bottom level was accessible from the front) and the formentioned cinema. In all, the entire complex encompassed 800,000 sq. feet.
The mall did well for many years, but this was also the first of its kind in the area and without competition. This was until the much bigger and nicer mall, Augusta Mall, which was more convenient (right off of I-520), newer and bigger came along and pretty much took its place. The mall was seriously ailing by the early 1990's and finally closed sometime around 1996. Montgomery Ward was the last store to leave and it did not close until the entire chain finally folded.
Plans to fill the void of this large abandoned mall have failed to materialize, though the mall remains largely intact. Much still works against this mall as it is way off of the interstates, the better demographics have shifted northward and closer to I-20 and I-520, competition pretty much leveled the mall and worst of all is that whoever redevelops the mall will have to pour an extensive amount of money into making it a viable shopping destination again.
With all those factors, it was no surprise that the mall was auctioned off for an abyssmal $2 million in 1999.
Nevertheless, the usual ambitious plans to save the mall have continued to be tossed around including a plan around 1997 by newly consolidated Augusta/Richmond County to move city government offices and the courthouse to the mall. More recent plans have included redeveloping the plaza as "Rocky Creek Town Center".
Anyway, it is a shame to see something like this happen, and maybe it could go to good use. It looks like it could be a premier location for a new high school or community college, for instance, and there is plenty of space there for a power center if the mall itself were to be demolished, but at this point, its future remains very much in doubt.
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Bing Bird's Eye View:
The Regency Mall from above