Soon, you’ll see Richland County sheriff’s deputies swarming the ramps of the parking garage at Richland Mall in Forest Acres.
But they won’t be chasing a criminal.
Instead, they’ll be using the ramps to stay fit as part of a new training facility, called Richland 1 CrossFit, that the sheriff’s office opened Thursday on the second floor of the mall. It’s an initiative that mall developers hope will increase traffic at the struggling retail center with the bonus of making customers feel safe.
“We’re going to have a constant flow of deputies in and out of there,” said Sheriff Leon Lott. “Richland Mall is a safe place. This will just give that extra level of security.”
The mall owners – a group of Columbia-area investors led by Don Taylor and Bill Walkup – have been working to fill the center since buying it at a steep discount out of foreclosure two years ago.
So far, the mall has gained an eclectic mix of retailers, theaters, service providers and even a small manufacturer.
But in an economic climate that still is struggling, the mall has not yet landed a major retail anchor tenant.
“Most urban infill malls are going to morph into a mixed-use mall,” said Joe Walker, who recently was appointed general manager of Richland Mall.
In fact, Forest Acres recently created a new zoning category specifically designed to help the mall bring in a variety of tenants.
“It’s a very liberal zoning policy to accommodate most anything,” Walker said. “This economy is not healed yet and national big box retailers are really not doing anything.”
The major retailers that are expanding are “still leapfrogging out to the perimeter,” Walker said. “It’s difficult to get a big national box to look back (toward town).”
Owners approached the Sheriff’s Department about creating a presence in the mall about the same time the law enforcement agency was looking for a permanent location for a CrossFit facility.
“It’s just the perfect marriage for what they were looking for and what I was looking for,” Lott said.
The 8,400-square-foot space gives deputies a spot to do short, intense workouts that combine cardiovascular and muscle training. The department is leasing the space for a penny a year, and Gold’s Gym donated the equipment so the new center carried no cost to taxpayers, Lott said. (The Sheriff’s Department still pays for all deputies to have a Gold’s membership.)
The extra training is important, Lott said, because it cuts down on injuries and protects lives.
“It’s part of the job, just like putting your uniform on, driving a car and having a gun,” he said.
In other mall news:Sadie’s American Cafeteria Rainsoft Pilates of Forest Acres