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Battlefield Mall battle headed back to court

[1/28/04]The battle over Battlefield mall will resume in Warren County Circuit Court since a federal bankruptcy court judge has lifted a stay on pending litigation.

Vicksburg’s attorneys were in the process of arguing that the vacant North Frontage Road complex should be demolished when the owners filed the bankruptcy petition in July, putting the state court case on hold.

City Attorney Nancy Thomas said Tuesday that Circuit Judge Isadore Patrick will be asked to allow the city to move forward with plans to remove the one-story building and assess the cost against the deed.

Although an appeal to the Supreme Court is still possible, Mayor Laurence Leyens said he sees the “light at the end of the tunnel.”

“This administration is committed to cleaning up this blighted, prime commercial real estate,” Leyens said. “We’re going to have this building removed before the end of this term.” City officials have 18 months left in their four-year elective posts.

Battlefield Village mall was built as Vicksburg’s first all-weather shopping center. After filing for bankruptcy, owners J&V Properties of Jackson had been given until Jan. 13 to file a contract for the sale of the building and property, but nothing was ever filed with the federal court.

Jimmy Coggins of J&V and his attorneys had argued that the property was worth more with the building, but city officials say that the building reduces any possible selling price because of its condition. The building has been declared unsafe for occupancy by city building inspectors and the owners have been fined for failing to comply with city fire codes.

In September, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen had upheld a previous order to repair the 42-year-old building or tear it down. The appeal to Circuit Court delayed any action by the city, but Patrick upheld the city board’s decision. City officials then started the process to get the building demolished when the bankruptcy action was filed in Jackson.

The property, visible from Interstate 20, has been a target of two city administrations since the last major tenants, the Corps of Engineers, moved out six years ago. In November 2001, the city building inspection department ordered the structure torn down, but a 180-day stay was issued at the request of the owners.

Last summer, when that stay expired, the owners asked for more time.

That request was denied and appealed to the Mayor and Aldermen, which upheld the demolition order.

Battlefield was among the first and one of the largest malls in Mississippi when built. Its major stores such as McRae’s, Sears, Kroger and Walgreen’s were joined by smaller specialty shops and a restaurant.

It emptied quickly after Pemberton Square mall opened on Pemberton Square Boulevard in 1985.

A twin-cinema complex on the site has been removed, and a former Sears auto center has become a motorcycle and four-wheeler dealership.

RiverHills Bank has a branch office on part of the former mall parking lot, and Trustmark National Bank operates a branch on an adjacent tract.