The idea of the mall has evolved in the past few decades from the enclosed behemoth structure with teens hanging around the food court or the record store while their parents shopped in big department stores and chain boutiques. It was replaced by the large lifestyle center. Now, in the post-Great Recession world, shoppers are largely splitting their dollars between online shopping, discount stores and nearby community shopping centers like Cross Hill Market along Fort Jackson Boulevard. Columbia, which has had five malls that were at one time thriving, now has one that is still bustling, one that was caught mid-development by the recession and three with uncertain futures.
The past financial woes of Alan Kahn, developer of the Village at Sandhill on Clemson Road, are buried under a makeshift winter wonderland as the outdoor shopping mall heads into the holiday season.
Kahn is quick to point out the shoppers sipping hot cocoa from horse-drawn carriages and the carols chiming from a children’s choir perched on a stage in the center of the sprawling 1.15 million-square-foot center, which he says has been bolstered over the past year with a handful of shops and restaurants that exceeded his expectations.
“It’s really quite picturesque,” said Kahn, who once called the mall his proudest achievement.
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He’s not so quick, however, to discuss those financial worries. Kahn exited bankruptcy last month for himself and two real estate companies with a plan to repay at least 5 cents on the dollar to up to 50 creditors to whom he owed more than $100 million. He also repaid more than $800,000 in back taxes to hold on to 95 acres of undeveloped land at the Village – about a third of its total acreage.
“No comment on any of that. The fact of the matter is that it is irrelevant to anything going on at the Village,” said Kahn, who filed for the Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the spring of 2013.
In fact, Kahn could still lose part of the shopping center and condominiums there to Wells Fargo bank if he is not able to refinance or sell it by the end of the month as a condition of the bankruptcy settlement.
The Village suffered when the worst recession in a lifetime walloped the country just as the center was being developed. However, even during some of the darkest years, the Village was able to attract a massive Academy Sports + Outdoors in 2011 – the first in the Midlands. HomeGoods opened there a year later. And last year, HiWire chose the Village to locate the Midlands’ first trampoline park.
But hope is on the horizon.
A new hotel is planned for the site. And in June, Richland District 2 broke ground in the Village for a $41 million Institute of Innovation, which will house a professional development center and student learning labs.
“It will draw tremendous numbers of people to the Village day in and day out,” Kahn said.
That promises to bolster an already strong showing of visitors. Kahn saysfoot traffic this year has been in the millions.
“It’s shocked ... me because I didn’t realize that many people visited the Village, but they do,” he said.
Kahn attributes the steady flow of customers to a continued stock of quality vendors, including new additions like East Coast Pizza and Le Peep, a family-run breakfast and lunch chain that returned after opening a location downtown. HomeGoods, a home decor outlet, sold 130 percent above plan this year, Kahn said. And the shopping center currently is 90 percent occupied.
“We’ve recovered from the recession ... as far as I’m concerned,” he said.