Some Richland County, state services could relocate soon into former Columbia Mall space
· By Mike Fitts firstname.lastname@example.org
· Oct 1, 2020 Updated Oct 6, 2020
COLUMBIA — Some state and local agencies could be relocating to now-empty space in Columbia Place Mall, as Richland County Council members look to revive a shelved plan to use the space.
Agencies including the area’s 911 call center and the county office for the S.C. Department of Social Services could be relocated into mall space that used to welcome shoppers.
The county spent almost $9 million in 2017 to acquire properties including much of Columbia Place Mall, which thrived in the 1980s but now has three of its anchor store spaces vacant.
The project, dubbed Richland Renaissance, was the brainchild of former county Administrator Gerald Seals. Critics, including some members of county council, contended the purchase of real estate was done with little public input.
After the council dismissed Seals in a contentious split, the whole project was shelved.
The county’s challenges for space, however, have continued to be a problem, according to County Council chairman Paul Livingston. In particular, the space that the county provides off Two Notch Road for DSS is among the worst facilities in the state.
“I think this is urgent right now,” council member Yvonne McBride said.
Agencies that could relocate to the mall space northeast of downtown include DSS, the S.C. Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole and the combined city/county 911 center, which currently is housed in a city building at 1800 Laurel St.
This plan would use two of the three anchor spaces that the county now owns. Only one big anchor retailer at the mall, Macy’s, continues to operate. The county does not own the Macy’s space.
Livingston hopes to reschedule a meeting for the council’s long-dormant Richland Renaissance subcommittee for October. A meeting was scheduled in September to revive the effort but was not held because of the lack of a quorum.
Despite the acquired buildings sitting empty for more than two years, Livingston believes that the purchase ultimately will work out well.
The county could put the spaces vacated by moved agencies to new uses or even sell those buildings, he said.
“I think it’s going to be a great deal for Richland County,” Livingston said.
While portions of the larger Richland Renaissance plan could be revived to help with space needs, that doesn’t mean that the county is revisting the larger plan, which had an estimated price tag of $114 million and foresaw new buildings and projects across the county.
The use of the mall space could bring some help to the part of Richland County with the mall at its center, which was an economic hub before retailers further out into Northeast Richland.
McBride, who represents the area on county council, said she is optimistic that the area will get a much-needed lift from agencies using the now-vacant spaces. McBride has been advocating for putting the mall space to use.
The Renaissance plan had to be set aside while the council hired its current administrator, Leonardo Brown, and brought him on board last year. The COVID-19 outbreak then took up the council’s attention, but now there appears to be time to address the plans, McBride said.
Despite the dwindling of Columbia Place Mall as an economic draw, stores in that area of the Northeast Richland has done relatively well, said Patrick Palmer, director of retail services for NAI Columbia commercial real estate.
Restaurants such as Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles and small retailers such as convenience stores have succeeded in that stretch of Two Notch Road, Palmer said.
While the mall itself no longer is a magnet for shoppers, the area nearby still has a large population for retailers to serve, he said.
When a Staples office supply store left a space on Decker Boulevard near the mall recently, clothing retailer dd’s Discounts quickly took over the location, proof that retailers still see an audience in the mall’s vicinity, Palmer said.
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