There’s a shopping mall in the southeastern United States that opened in the late 1960s as a rather standard mall, but soon ran into trouble and started losing its original tenants. The mall entered decline, changed ownership, and work began to convert it into an outlet mall themed around the Asian community. But the owners failed to maintain the building properly, and soon its new tenants started suing over it, effectively bringing the mall’s revival to a screeching halt.
Sounds familiar, right? But no, the mall we’re describing isn’t Regency Square Mall.
Buford-Clairmont Mall opened in 1969 in DeKalb County, GA, as a small regional mall to support the suburban outskirts of Atlanta. But it ran into many of the same issues that have plagued Regency for years, and eventually turned into an outlet center.
As with Regency, a new ownership group took over with lofty goals of creating a mecca for the area’s growing Asian community. And, also as with Regency, that ownership group largely half-assed their grand plans, sticking their newly-recruited tenants with dilapidated units inside of a mall corridor badly in need of repair.
Unsurprisingly, both stories led to the same result: the ownership group was sued, and the revitalization project was abandoned.
However, the story of Buford-Clairmont Mall didn’t end there.
The mall was sold off by the troubled ownership group, bringing in a new team that initially planned to tear the mall down to build an open-air center.
But after listening to the community’s input regarding the property, the new owners realized that the previous group wasn’t far off in what residents wanted to see from the mall.
They resolved to create a community center for a fast-growing minority population – this time, they focused on the Hispanic community, tearing down store units to create small booths that evoked memories of the open-air flea markets in the streets of Mexico.
The new owners encouraged its few remaining tenants to engage with the Hispanic community, while also bringing in a number of Latinx-owned local businesses as new booth tenants. They even offered free English classes for shopkeepers to expand their business reach.
The mall, renamed Plaza Fiesta, was a hit and is still going strong almost 20 years later.
So what does any of this have to do with Regency or Jacksonville?
Right now, Regency is experiencing a near-identical stand-still to the one that Plaza Fiesta faced around 20 years ago. Only a small portion of the mall remains open, with only a handful of tenants and two anchors sticking around.
It’s owned by Namdar Realty Group, known for aggressively acquiring dying malls and milking them for money while they keep dying. They’re being sued by International Décor Outlet, which was supposed to bring life to an entirely-empty corridor of the mall but is claiming the mall’s owners lied about its condition. IDO, in turn, is being sued by its tenants for not following through on promised storefront build-outs.
IDO had also announced that they would fill part of their décor-themed outlet space with a concept called Asian Town, much like the plans of Plaza Fiesta’s first redevelopers. That project never even got underway, though, as lawsuits piled up against IDO.
Much like what happened with Plaza Fiesta initially, the current failures at Regency aren’t necessarily due to bad ideas. Jacksonville does indeed have a thriving Asian community that would surely benefit from a fully-realized version of what was proposed with Asian Town. And there are enough Asian-American small business owners in Jax to contribute and bring their own businesses into the fold – again, assuming it’s done right.
Instead, the problems at Regency can be entirely boiled down to execution. Building a cultural mecca is a noble idea, but building one in a crumbling husk of a structure is pointless – and insulting to the community they hope to engage.
To create something rivaling Plaza Fiesta out of Regency, finding a new ownership group is essential. That new group would have millions of dollars in renovations to complete – much like the costs of over $10 million incurred to create Plaza Fiesta. But if done properly, there’s little doubt that a similar concept could work in the ghost mall once known as Regency.
Here’s to hoping someone who actually gives half a shit about the property acquires it soon. Once that happens, the possibilities are endless.