2 buildings at Battlefield mall being torn down

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 20, 2002

[12/20/02]Work began this morning to tear down two buildings adjacent to the former Battlefield Village mall and a representative of the mall owners said they have a signed contract to retain and use a third.

Charlie Buckner of First Commercial Real Estate Services said this morning that Southern Sports, an ATV dealership based in Ridgeland, will renovate the former Sears Auto Center on the North Frontage Road site.

“The deal is subject to the city’s approval and release from the demolition order,” Buckner said.

Representatives of the company were expected to go before the city board Monday to make that request, he said.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said this morning that the city will support the effort.

“As long as there is constructive redevelopment, we’ll work with them,” said Leyens, who has pushed legal avenues for several months to have the empty mall buildings fixed up and used or removed.

A contractor’s crew and equipment were on the property this morning around 9 and began work on the former cinema building. The “Twin Cinema” sign was down by 11 a.m.

Plans were to tear down the former bank outbuilding on the west end of the next site.

Buckner said he is also in negotiations with several developers looking at the main building, but that there are no firm plans for it.

Jackson-based J&V Properties, owner of the mall land and buildings, was ordered Thursday to pay $8,000 in fines for failing to comply with a judge’s order to post 24-hour security at the vacant structure. Vicksburg Community Court Judge Mack Varner ruled that the owners were not in compliance with the order he imposed because there is no functioning sprinkler system in the one-story, 41-year-old structure on North Frontage Road.

“The court is very concerned that the defendants have had no concern about the welfare of the people of Vicksburg or the Vicksburg firefighters,” Varner said. “They’ve had more than ample opportunity to come into compliance with the fire department recommendations.”

Varner ordered the owners to pay $5,000 in fines he had suspended in his Dec. 3 ruling and $200 per day since they have not had security there. City ordinance and National Fire Protection codes require all commercial buildings, even if vacant, to have working sprinklers.

Vicksburg Fire Chief Keith Rogers testified that his officers have inspected the property daily since security was to begin on Dec. 6 and found no one on the site except the property manager who is there on weekdays. Rogers also said anyone can gain access to the building through open doors or broken windows throughout the structure and two adjacent buildings.

He has also said vagrants might start fires inside the building during winter months, endangering themselves and firefighters who might be called to put out a blaze.

“It’s a total disrespect for the life of anyone entering or exiting that building,” Rogers said.

The owners of the property have filed an appeal of the order to have security in county court. Attorney Wren Way, representing J&V, said the owners have offered to install an electronic security and fire alarm system instead.

“We feel like the judge abused his discretion in turning down that plan,” Way said. “We agreed to a better system at a higher cost.”

Rogers has said that without a sprinkler system, a fire there could engulf the entire building before firefighters could arrive. The nearest fire station is across Interstate 20 at Halls Ferry Park.

Battlefield was among the first and one of the largest malls in Mississippi with major stores such as McRae’s, Sears, Kroger and Walgreen’s, joined by smaller specialty shops and a restaurant. It was the area’s main shopping center until 1985 when Pemberton Square opened.

It served as a federal office complex for several years, but has been vacant since 1996 and deteriorating. The city demolition order is on appeal to Warren County Circuit Court and a hearing had been set for Jan. 17 on a motion to dismiss.

The site had been identified as the potential site for a Home Depot-centered development, but a site across Interstate 20 near Halls Ferry Road was selected.

Last month, a realty company’s sign went up outside the building, advertising it for sale.