As brick-and-mortar retail faces an uncertain future, the plans for repurposing the Aiken Mall appears to be aligned with many other malls across the country which have reinvented themselves for a new lease on life.
Southeastern Development has partnered in a public/private investment to the tune of $50 million involving 400,000 square feet of property to reinvent the mall space.
“With the approval of the city of Aiken and the county, we are moving ahead with an eye to the future which includes an inclusive shopping, dining, and living experience,” Jason Long, Vice President of Southeastern Development said. “Public parks, walking trails, and 256 family units are all part of the new mall project.”
About 80 percent of the mall has been demolished. The heavy lifting comes next, getting rid of the slab or foundation of the old mall, which takes about three months.
“The process to develop plans for the multi-use mall will take about two years,” Long added, “but there will be progress and openings along the way.”
The original anchors of the mall, which was built in 1988, were Belk, JC Penney, Sears, Books-A-Million, and Dillard’s. Of those, only Belk will presently remain due to a new lease amendment which allows for a major facelift for the store.
Aside from Belk, Southeastern Development has the space to build 42,000 square feet of retail. The family units promise top-of-the-line amenities and finishes. Down the road, a hotel is also being considered in plans for the Aiken Mall.
The decline of major shopping malls started around 2013. Then in 2020, COVID changed many social outings. Amazon and other online shopping became even more convenient and safer in many shoppers’ minds. Forbes estimates that one in every four malls will close in 2022.
“A big part of the issue is that when an anchor store or two goes dark, the property is still facing property taxes, insurance, energy costs, and other fixed expenses. It becomes a real challenge,” Long explained.
Meanwhile, there have been a few concerns expressed on social media regarding the potential for increased traffic on an already busy Whiskey Road.
“The traffic should be less, especially if folks live there,” Long said. “They would only be making two trips a day which is a benefit from strictly retail to multi-family use.”
Most of the feedback, though, has been positive because many area Aikenites appear to embrace the new opportunities in the area.
“The big attraction to the Aiken Mall site will be the outdoor space for events and family gatherings at the parks and walking trails as well as the retail opportunities,” Long said.
Across the country, city planners and developers like Southeastern have gotten creative in repurposing malls. Some have added churches while others have constructed libraries and skating rinks to create more usable spaces for the community to enjoy. It looks as if Aiken Mall is no exception.
Mitzi Oxford is a veteran broadcaster and features writer who also worked at the same television station in Columbus, Georgia as Augusta’s Brad Means!
If you have a South Carolina story idea for Mitzi, please email her at [email protected].