Historic Growth Projected for Forest Acres with Richland Mall Redevelopment
Richland Mall will be sold and demolished in what is the single-largest economic development investment in Forest Acres in nearly 35 years.
Southeastern Development out of Augusta, GA is under contract to buy the property and will deliver a redevelopment valued at approximately 100 million dollars.
“This is a historic day for Forest Acres and Richland County,” says Forest Acres Mayor Frank Brunson of the public-private partnership required to complete the deal.
The redevelopment plan on the 32-acre site will be a mixed-use property that includes mixed-use retail including a brewery or tap room, a large green space to host large events and concerts, a grocery store, and apartments.
“We wanted a long-term solution for the mall property,” says Councilman Thomas Andrews. “Over two-and-a-half years of working on this project, we’ve come to learn to be successful, the mall property has to be completely reimagined to deliver a thriving commercial space.”
“We’ve seen the potential in the property for years, the location is a huge appeal,” added Jason Long, the Vice President of Southeastern Development. “Ultimately, an enclosed mall redevelopment of this magnitude cannot get off the ground in our opinion without a public-private partnership. Forest Acres and Richland County shared our vision of taking this functionally obsolete mall, demolish the majority of the structures, and redevelop the property into a mixed-use development that offers retail, restaurants, living space, and outdoor public space cohesively on the site. We look forward to delivering a space that can be enjoyed by the entire community.”
City and County leaders pointed to Southeastern’s strong track record of success, specifically in rehabbing former indoor mall properties, as the reason this project garnered so much support. The commercial development company is currently reconstructing the former Aiken Mall. Shelter Cove Towne Centre in Hilton Head Island is another mall rehab in their portfolio which spans hundreds of properties across the South.
“The County was unanimous in our support,” said Richland County Council Chair Overture Walker. “There are many benefits here, chief among them a property in decline becoming a crown jewel property once again in Richland County. As it brings a financial jolt to our tax base, all of our residents will benefit, with our schools being the biggest winners.”
Richland Mall opened in 1961 as the first mall in the region. The open-air shopping center was later converted into an indoor mall in the 1980s. After decades of start-stop projects filled with false promises of a new start, problems have only continued to pile up. Currently, only three tenants are occupying the near one million square feet of retail. Meanwhile, the structure has fallen into disrepair.
Overall, the footprint of the property will be greatly reduced in the new plan. Leaders say that will create sustainable growth and manageable traffic levels.
As part of the public-private partnership, the City of Forest Acres will buy the greenspace for three million dollars and oversee the park's development.
“This gives us what we’ve long looked for, an outdoor venue space for city events like Sweet Seasons and hopefully, the return of Jam’n on Forest,” said Councilman David Black.
Councilman John Barnes felt strongly the new development must have a key component.
“We need a brewery or tap room in The Acres. Period. I think what Southeastern is offering of a brewery overlooking the greenspace is exactly what we envisioned from the start of this deal.”
Retail Project Details
Southeastern is expected to close on the property soon. Once completed, the firm will hire an architect to begin drawing up the site plan. This will take around six months.
Next, Long said Southeastern will rehab the old Parisian building along Forest Drive where Belk will relocate once complete. That alone will take 12 to 18 months. Belk will remain open in its current store until they relocate to the Parisian building, which is 75,000 square feet.
Afterward, Southeastern will begin tearing down most of the existing structure – which will take another 12 to 18 months. Currently, the mall is 931,000 square feet of concrete.
“The current structure is an uninviting concrete fortress. The mall was added on to so many times over the years, it does not feel like a modern planned project. Thus, retailers don’t want to lease at the site because it’s not a good shopping experience for their customers,” explains Long. “Our project is an outdoor mixed-use center and will be a completely different model than the mall. It will take us years to demolish and redevelop this property, but that’s what must happen.”
Southeastern says it will recycle all the concrete on site that it can.
This means it will be four to five years before Forest Acres can expect to see the first phase of the project open for business. That includes mixed retail and apartments anchored by a 100,000-square-foot grocery store. The grocery store tenant is yet to be named publicly, but the developer says they are in discussions with one.
The grocery store and Belk will serve as the anchor stores. There will be another 41,000 square feet of mixed retail space throughout the site, including about 7,500 square feet for the brewery overlooking the park on the back of the property.
“The public park will invite citizens to spend longer amounts of time at the property, and ideally, visit the retail stores and restaurants,” says Long. “All of our uses work together to make each use better and more desirable.”
The development, which is still yet to be named, will build on the successes the city has proven works in Forest Acres. Trenholm Plaza is destination shopping for people across the midlands and is anchored by two grocery stores, Publix and The Fresh Market.
Cardinal Crossing is considered another redevelopment success and is also a mixed-use property. The retail that will be available to lease at the mall property will be roughly the same size the city already enjoys at Cardinal Crossing. The retail will be constructed in a way to relate to the public park as well as the grocery and multifamily components.
Overall, the construction footprint of the new development will be reduced to about one-third of what was originally at the mall: about 215,000 square feet of retail plus apartment homes compared to 931,000 square feet currently.
By paring down the retail availability and providing parking throughout, Southeastern does not expect traffic to be a problem but will hire a traffic engineer if needed as the project progresses.
“While traffic will increase from the current conditions at the mall, it will not be to the size and scale it once was when the mall was operating at even half the capacity it was built for in the 1980s,” points out Mayor Brunson.
Residential Project Details
The development will include apartments across two phases. The first phase will build apartments to wrap around some of the existing parking deck along Forest Drive.
This is being done to improve the curb appeal of the parking deck while also keeping the functionality.
The parking deck’s first floor will be used for retail customers. The rest of the decks will be reserved for the apartments. Southeastern’s real estate development group will hire and direct a third-party management group to handle day-to-day operations.
Southeastern’s Aiken Mall and Shelter Cove Town Centre redevelopment projects both included apartments.
“The multifamily units provide walkable patrons of the businesses on site. In addition to the businesses being benefitted, residents of the multi-family units are benefited by living close to services such as grocery, restaurants, and shopping,” Long says of the overall vision. “It’s also just not feasible to have a site of 32 acres to comprise only boutique retail in today’s market. Small shop retail has been transformed by Amazon and online shopping.”
The number of apartments is a little more than double the units found at Cardinal Crossing, which is a 12-acre site compared to the mall’s 32-acre footprint. The 256 apartments at Cardinal Crossing are 100% occupied.
The mall’s current property value is around 7 million dollars. In the end, the project is expected to have a value of $100 million, if not more.
“Eventually, that means a substantial increase in tax dollars for Forest Acres and Richland County. That money will go into our school system, which is not expected to see as large a rise in students from the apartment project as it may a suburban neighborhood,” explains Councilman Haskell Kibler.
“The other influx of money will go into our city services, our parks, and public safety - which all remain our top priorities. Ultimately, this makes the property contribute to the city’s future rather than serving as a relic of the past.”
As part of the public-private partnership, the Richland County Council and the City of Forest Acres voted to give Southeastern a tax deferment equal to $23 million over 20 years, whichever comes first.
After that rebate expires and the project is completed, the tax base is projected to go from $300,000 to more than three million dollars annually. Those numbers come from the property’s current tax valuation of seven million dollars increasing to 100 million dollars, or more, at its conclusion.
A recent retail trade market analysis found Forest Acres supports $2.2 billion in retail trade from people all over the region – and it’s expected to increase another $200 million over the next five years. The city’s grocery stores including Trader Joe’s and Lowes Foods contribute to that demand, along with Fresh Market, Publix, and Kroger.
“It’s important to note that an additional 200-million-dollar projection was made before the mall redevelopment was finalized. So, the numbers will arguably be much higher,” explains Councilman Thomas Andrews. “The city is in a very strong place. Our location, our retail trade area, and our average household income are the combination that makes us attractive to top businesses. We have one of the strongest retail trade markets across the Midlands.”
With excitement mounting, city leaders want to remind citizens that completing a project of this scale will be a heavy lift.
The first phase of the project will hopefully be completed within four to five years. That includes the brewery and the park, the grocery store, about 20,000 square feet of retail, the Belk relocation, and about half of the apartments.
The second phase will include more mixed-use retail on the east side of the property. It will also include a second section of apartments. That will take another four to five years to finish, rounding out the 10-year projected completion date.
“We wanted the best deal for Forest Acres. For 15 to 20 years our citizens have continually expressed their desire to redevelop the property and bring it back to life,” says Mayor Brunson. “Southeastern had the track record to get this done – and that was important to us. We couldn’t risk this sitting another 15-20 years at the gateway to our city. Whether it’s new dining and shopping, the brewery, or the park, there will be something here for everyone to come and enjoy.”