What’s with Richland’s super-secret mall plans?


This just gets weirder and weirder:

Richland County administrator Gerald Seals confirmed Tuesday that the county is finalizing the purchase of three anchor stores at Columbia Place Mall – the former Sears and Dillard’s locations, as well as the soon to-be-vacant Burlington Coat Factory.

However, Seals would not comment on whether the county is planning to purchase the entire mall, which could mean the nearly 60 tenants at the Dentsville shopping center would have to move.

County officials announced in December that they planned to buy property at Columbia Place as part of their Renaissance project. The plan is to move county administrative offices to the mall and for the current administration building on Hampton Street to be razed to make way for a county judicial center. The current judicial center on Main Street would be sold.

When asked if the county planned to purchase the rest of the mall, county spokeswoman Beverly Harris declined to say specifically. “As to the acquisition of any other entities, the County only engages in direct negotiations,” she said in a statement….

What does that mean? And what’s with the secrecy, which has characterized this mysterious “Project Renaissance” since the start? It’s not just the public being kept in the dark, by the way:

“The discussion has been about the anchors,” said Paul Livingston, one of five of the 11 council members to vote against the project, in large part because of the secrecy surrounding it. “But we don’t know” if the sale of the entire mall is being negotiated.

“I support the concept” of purchasing the anchors, he said, noting that importing county workers and constituents would provide a windfall of customers for the merchants. “But there has been no public participation.”…

If members of Council don’t know, then who does? Is this all being planned out of Dr. Evil’s secret underground lair?

This thing has just been really weird from the start.

Show us blueprints. Sketch out the plan, in detail. Then, if the plan survives scrutiny, start buying up property. Don’t do this business where you tell us you’re going to spend millions on some grandiose plan and then shut up, saying, “It’s a secret!” Leave that stuff to the private sector.

15 thoughts on “What’s with Richland’s super-secret mall plans?

  1. Bryan Caskey

    Yeah, it’s all a bit strange. I guess the idea behind the secrecy is that the County is worried that if they announce their plan to buy certain property, then the cost to purchase that property from the current owner goes way up. (That’s the only thing I can think of, anyway.)

    Overall, I’m not thrilled about the idea of moving the judicial center over to Hampton and Harden Street, and moving the County Admin way out to Two Notch. I’d rather see the courthouse stay in the same general area. Some other options I’ve heard floated are:

    1. Move the enormous USPS office on Assembly somewhere else. There’s no need for that huge post office right downtown. Take that place and build a courthouse on the same footprint and build it as high as you need. In this day and age, I’m not sure why the courthouses aren’t going more digital with regards to record storage. It saves on the need for physical space, and it’s easier to access than combing through endless boxes.

    2. Move the courthouse to the entirely abandoned Federal building (formerly the VA offices) on Assembly and Laurel. It’s completely vacant, and the Feds are trying to unload it. Did you know that? It could be updated and be a nice facility.

    1. bud

      The VA building is vacant? Did not know that. That must be recent. I did VA business for my mom there just a couple years ago. Or was that the Strom Thurmond building.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Both of those sound like great options, much better than this mysterious chimera the county seems to be following…

      And no, I didn’t know the federal building was empty…

    3. Claus2

      1. So take the central processing location for Columbia mail and put it way out in the northeast side of town so lawyers and judges won’t be inconvenienced. Sounds like a plan if you’re a lawyer or judge.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        You don’t think the central processing location for Columbia mail could be pretty much anywhere. Seems to me it could.

        A courthouse should be in the center of town. In most small-town county seats, it IS the center of town, with everything built around it. In Columbia, the State House sort of takes that role…

        1. Richard

          “A courthouse should be in the center of town”

          Why? I mean other than nostalgia.

          Shouldn’t jails also be in immediate location of the courthouse? Should we put a jail downtown too? Maybe we could move the prison back to it’s original location close to downtown.

      2. Bryan Caskey

        First, that’s not the central processing location for Columbia mail. If you want the central processing location, you’re talking about the facility out in Dixiana. The USPS location on Assembly is just a regular ol’ post office, and it really doesn’t need to be there. And who said to put it “way out” anywhere? Put it anywhere else you like.

        Second, why don’t the lawyers and judges get a say where the courthouse should go? We’re the ones who are using it all the time. Seems like we should get more of a say, not less.

        Putting the courthouse at Harden and Hampton puts the county courthouse far away from the other courthouses, and also locates it between Benedict College and the railroad tracks that cut across Hampton. What kind of logic is that? It’s not like there’s all sorts of convenient space right there. If the parking situation is better at Hampton and Harden, then I’ll be happily supportive. However, I think it’s going to be worse.

        Right now, you have the federal district courthouse on Richland Street, the bankruptcy courthouse on Laurel, and right next to it (Main and Blanding) is the county courthouse for common pleas, general sessions, family court, and probate court. It makes sense to have all the courthouses near each other, and it’s all pretty conveniently accessible on the main thoroughfare of Assembly. There are huge parking decks all around these courthouses for jurors, lawyers, and litigants. Where is everyone going to park at Harden and Hampton?

        To me, all this sounds like the County is trying to push the buildings around in order to artificially stimulate different parts of the county rather than think about where the logical place is and then go from there.

        Think about every other county…where is the courthouse? It’s almost always in the center of the city.

  2. Doug Ross

    I would hope the county would pay well below market value for the anchor stores. They aren’t bidding against anyone – that mall is dead. But, as with all things government, cost is never considered because they can always go back and raise taxes and get more money.

    The over/under on how much the cost of this project exceeds the initial public lies about the cost is 100%… and the over/under on how many months it will be completed past the initial public lies about the date is 24 months.

    Any expenditure of this size should be justified in public hearings.. it won’t though. Benjamin and his crew will ram this through. Some well connected people will make a lot of money… and we’ll all end up paying for the incompetence and guaranteed corruption… Thankfully the day when I no longer will have to pay Richland County taxes is on the horizon. Paying Nieman Marcus prices for K-Mart quality is not in my future.

    1. Doug Ross

      Also notice that this plan includes “spreading the wealth” to Dutch Square and Lower Richland. As long as each council member gets his piece of the pie, he or she will vote for the whole package deal. It’s the beauty of government spending – using other people’s money to buy your influence with your constituents.

      Decisions like these should be based on the best location, not how to pay off council members.


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