Midtown at Forest Acres sold for $4.4 million

Verizon call center is leaving the already struggling Midtown at Forest Acres, freeing up 100,000 square feet in a mall that already has low occupancy.
Verizon call center is leaving the already struggling Midtown at Forest Acres, freeing up 100,000 square feet in a mall that already has low occupancy.

Midtown at Forest Acres has its third new owner in five years.

The mall sold for $4.4 million Tuesday to two Columbia-based groups, Century Capital Group LLC and Investment Property Exchange Services, according to Bill Kohlhepp, a broker who represented the seller, Richland Joint Ventures.

That's a far cry from the $28.5 million asking price when the mall at Forest Drive and Beltline Boulevard was placed on the market a year ago.

"It was a tremendous opportunity for a local group," said Randy Jones, the real estate agent representing the buyers.

He said the group wants to restore the suffering mall, but they are not ready to talk about their plans.

"We want to put it back to where it once was, but with some wonderful things that will enhance it," Jones said.

Kohlhepp, a broker with Fort Lauderdale-based Marcus & Millichap, said he would not release additional details on the buyer and said he was not aware of future plans for the mall.

Donald E. Taylor, an Irmo real estate agent, is the registered agent for Century Capital Group. Taylor, a longtime commercial developer in the Midlands, is a board member of Congaree State Bank. C.T. Corp. System out of Greenville is the registered agent for Investment Property Exchange Services. Efforts to reach Taylor and C.T. Corp. officials Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The mall has struggled in recent years to keep and attract tenants, with large stretches on both levels going dark over the past few years. It is anchored by Belk and Barnes & Noble and has a handful of smaller stores and restaurants.

A Verizon call center that has occupied a 162,000-square-foot chunk of the mall for the past decade recently announced plans to move to Northeast Richland next year.

Tuesday's sale of 695,000 square feet of the mall did not include the call center, which has a different owner and is listed for sale for $16.2 million.

The new mall owners are not ruling out the possibility of purchasing the call center, said Jones, the buyers' agent.

The city of Forest Acres had considered plans to move government operations to the old Parisian department store but decided last month the space was too large.

Formerly known as Richland Fashion Mall, the shopping center hit a turning point in 2005 when a group out of North Carolina bought it for $19 million, according to county property records, and announced a $300 million plan to renovate it into a lifestyle center.

Plans called for turning the mall inside out, adding professional offices, putting condos on top of the parking garage and building a retirement community and condo hotel in the former Dillard's space.

Plans never got off the ground, and the recent sellers, an ownership group based in Sarasota, Fla., bought the mall out of foreclosure in 2007 for $1.5 million, according to county property records.

Forest Acres Mayor Frank Brunson said he hopes the new ownership group will be a positive step for the mall.

"They hopefully will be able to put a local slant on it and bring it back to its former vitality," he said.