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Richland Mall redevelopment aims to reinvigorate Columbia area

<p>A rendering of the plans for the redevelopment of Richland Mall in Forest Acres, showing an open-air shopping center instead of a traditional mall format. Richland Mall officially closed in 2023, but the mall's interior has been closed to the public since 2022.</p>
A rendering of the plans for the redevelopment of Richland Mall in Forest Acres, showing an open-air shopping center instead of a traditional mall format. Richland Mall officially closed in 2023, but the mall's interior has been closed to the public since 2022.

Richland Mall, a shopping mall off Forest Drive, is set to begin its redevelopment into a lifestyle center focused on promoting upscale retail and community engagement.

Located at the entrance of Forest Acres, the redevelopment will feature a grocery store, retail spaces and apartments in the style of a town center. Forest Acres also plans to build a park with an amphitheater next to the new development. 

The redevelopment represents a shift from the traditional mall format to an open-air atmosphere. Consumers today are more focused on the ease and community of their shopping experience, said Mike Watson, the undergraduate director of USC's department of retail.  

Wanting to reinstate a sense of community and interconnectivity since the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced some of these changes, he said.

"People's desire just to interact more has really been the drive for these lifestyle (malls)," Watson said. "From a business perspective, it also makes sense because it's more cost-effective to build this type of structure than it is these massive square-footage malls." 

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Richland Mall officially closed down in 2023. The interior of the mall has been closed to the public since 2022, but stores such as Belk and Barnes & Noble retained exterior storefronts for a while. 

 in March 2024, which completed the closure of the mall, according to the Carolina News and Reporter. 

Cost was one of the challenges involved in attracting a developer for Richland Mall, Watson said. 

The mall, which encompasses 32 acres, was an expensive plot of land to buy. The 930,000-square-foot "concrete dinosaur" would also be costly to demolish, said Lynnsey Baker, a public information officer for Forest Acres.   

Southeastern, a commercial real estate agency based out of Augusta, Georgia, purchased the property in January 2023 for $18.6 million. The deal would not have been successful without the tax incentives offered by both the city and county, said Jason Long, the senior vice president of Southeastern. 

A plan was developed by the city and state to allow Southeastern to "borrow against (its) future tax value," Long said. This would give the company $23 million to assist with building improvements and demolition costs.   

Forest Acres also offered to buy a portion of the original plot to turn into a public park. The 6 acres will be separate from Southeastern's property, but it will still be valuable to the redevelopment project, Long said. 

"It's a great benefit to our project. Just brings a lot of people to the property and supports the retail," Long said. "It's a great amenity for the residents, but it's a great amenity for the whole community." 

The parking lot of the mall, which is included in the land bought by Forest Acres, will be turned into the city's largest green space using $3 million from Թϱ's state budget.  

"It's not often we get a chance to buy 6 full acres and build a park," Baker said. "It was a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the city to acquire that much land."  

There is not an anticipated price for the mall or park redevelopment as of March 2024. The project is expected to be worth $100 million by the end of phase one, which will include the addition of retail spaces, apartments and a grocery store.   

Phase two will likely include more retail and apartments, Baker said, but no plans have been presented for it yet.  

Third-year retailing student Olivia Andrew said she thinks Columbia residents will benefit from the greater variety of stores to shop from.

"There's definitely a lack of shopping in Columbia," Andrew said. "It's a necessity thing, but it's also just — I feel because there are so many young people in Columbia, it would be nice to have more options for people to shop, and even if they're just doing it for entertainment purposes."  


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