Richland Mall’s parking garage is sparsely occupied. Most of the structure stands eerily empty. (Photos by Audrey Elsberry)

The Richland Mall could be getting a major overhaul, but if a deal between the mall’s owners and a potential developer falls through, nothing will change. 

The developer, Southeastern Real Estate Group, plans to buy the mall from its current owners. The deal would allow Southeastern to transform the mall property using $20 million in tax incentives approved by Richland County Council on Oct. 18.

Southeastern is planning to demolish the mall, which has stood since 1961, and transform it into a “mixed-use” area of retail, restaurants and housing. The project will likely cost around $100 million, and Southeastern would shoulder that cost, according to Richland County agenda documents. 

Forest Acres Mayor Frank Brunson said Southeastern has a “well-known track record for integrating public space with these types of redevelopment projects.”

The purchase of the property would spark large tax incentives on a city and county level, as well as another purchase of land at the edge of the mall property by the city of Forest Acres. If the deal does not close, none of that will happen. 

“None of it’s a done deal,” said Lindsay Baker, communications director for Forest Acres. “Everything’s contingent on the developer actually buying it from the private owners.”

In addition to Richland County’s tax incentives, the city of Forest Acres committed to spending $3 million on further incentives, it said in an Instagram post on Wednesday.  

And the city plans to spend an additional $3 million to buy property at the mall’s edge to build a public park. The goal is to have a space for large events and concerts in the Sunnyside Road and Forest Drive area. 

The city signed an agreement pledging to buy that part of the land if Southeastern buys the rest of the property, Baker said.

The city and county are merely laying in wait for the private deal to close so they can do their part. All they can do for now is put the tax incentives in place to show support for the deal. 

“(The mall) has been nearly abandoned for so long that this is the opportunity to replace with new retail, restaurants, residents and an opportunity to build on our city park system,” Forest Acres Councilman Thomas Andrews said in the Instagram post. “There are a lot of details to finish up but we are excited about the opportunities to come.”

Allison DeLoache, a resident of Forest Acres, said she doesn’t go to Richland Mall often because there is nothing left in it besides a Belk department store and a Barnes and Noble bookstore. 

DeLoache said the Forest Drive location is “prime real estate.” She said the area is deserted and needs to be remade with things such as retail and restaurants.  

“My husband and I stay in this area when we want to go to dinner, and there are like four restaurants,” DeLoache said. “So, that’s just the four restaurants we go to just because (they’re) right here and close by.” 

Columbia resident George Hetherington said he would like to see a non-traditional retail development in the area, not just something that replaces retail stores. 

“I think it would have to be an idea that would be creative and diverse in its conception,” Hetherington said.  “It couldn’t just be, ‘Let’s put some stores in and try to get some people attracted here for retail.’ I don’t think that is going to work.”

Parts of the sidewalk at Richland Mall in Forest Acres are riddled with cracks and holes. The mall is “nearly abandoned,” according to a city councilman.

The interior of Richland Mall is closed to the public. Belk and Barnes and Noble are accessible from outside the mall.