HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - The old Hollywood Fashion Center at U.S. 441 and Hollywood Boulevard is being demolished to make way for a new Walmart Supercenter.
But before crews could move in, they had to move out a massive colony of bats that had taken over the mall.
In its heyday, the Hollywood Fashion Center was the place to be, but time turned the Broward landmark into a commercial wasteland -- a decaying structure -- abandoned, but still very much occupied.
A group of urban explorers, who ventured into the crumbling fashion mall, said their senses warned them something was living inside.
"We've never encountered anything like this before," said Rob Tech, of Florida Urban Explorers.
"There was the strong smell of ammonia and I heard what I thought were actually rats -- the high-pitched noise," said Nomeus, of Florida Urban Explorers. "We were curious so we just followed the scent and the sound, and we ended up in this room that was just full of bats."
With thousands of bats discovered inside, a massive colony of night flyers had turned the mall into their roost.
"When you walked to the center, the bats were just flying around you in circles. You're totally encased and when you turn on the lights, all you see is a black cloud," said Nomeus.
It was a perfect daytime refuge for these creatures -- dark and dank like a cave. But their presence posed a problem for the developer who had to figure out how to get the bats from his building.
"You'd never catch them all if you tried," said Dan Bozone, of Friends of Bats.
Bozone is the bat man. His company relocated the creatures, which is a delicate job. Bats are a protected species because of the role they play in the ecosystem.
"Every little bat eats between two to three thousand insects per night," said Bozone. "So without the bats, you couldn't make enough pesticide, especially when you consider there are more bats in the state of Florida than there are people."
A look inside the bat mobile shows the tools his trade -- steel netting, caulk and other material was used to seal up cracks and crevices in the building. The bats could get out at night to feed, but there was no way to get back in.
"We're basically the eviction sheriff for bats," said Bozone.
Bozone said it took about seven nights to get all of those bats out of the mall. The question is where'd they go? Bozone said bats always have backup roosts. You'll usually find them hanging out under bridges, but they're also very territorial and will try to go back to the mall.
Demolition crews will ensure that won't happen. Soon, Super Walmart will sit on the site, but the urban explorers will always know it as "the bat cave."
"But as far as encountering something live like that in a colony of bats, it's pretty incredible. I would rank that as probably number one," said Rob Tech.
Crews have almost completed the demolition of the old fashion mall. To learn more about the new Walmart shopping center, click here.
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