The troubled Midtown at Forest Acres, which is facing a foreclosure lawsuit and losing a massive call center, could be close to getting a new owner, and merchants are hopeful they will soon have some company.
The mall - which has large barren stretches and dark anchor spaces - was split up several years ago and has several owners.
But a group out of Florida, Richland Joint Ventures, bought the bulk of the mall at auction in 2007 and put it on the market for $28.5 million in February.
Bill Kohlhepp, a broker with Marcus & Millichap who is representing the owners in the sale, said he is negotiating with several potential buyers. He said the owners hope it can be sold soon to a group that will redevelop it into something good for the community.
In 2005, a group out of North Carolina introduced a $300 million plan to revitalize the mall and add condos and a retirement community. But that plan was scrapped after the mall went into foreclosure just as the economy started to tank.
On Thursday, Verizon Wireless announced it would move its call center from the mall to a new building near Elgin.
It was the latest strike for a mall that has lost major anchors and smaller stores over the past years. Belk, Barnes & Noble and TGIFridays are among a couple of dozen tenants left, according to its Web site.
Efforts to reach mall management was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, last month, an owner of a small portion of the mall filed a foreclosure lawsuit for $260,000 against Richland Joint Ventures, claiming the group failed to make the first $25,000 payment due in September.
Billy McGee, an attorney with Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough in Columbia, said he is representing Richland Joint Ventures but could not comment on ongoing litigation. He said the group has until Dec. 25 to file an answer to the foreclosure lawsuit.
John Lansche, attorney for Oberlin Anthony, which filed the foreclosure lawsuit, made the following statement: "My client is excited about the future of Midtown at Forest Acres and has been contacted by potential investors regarding the mall's future."
While the mall is in turmoil, retailers remained hopeful and many cited rumors that new ownership was imminent.
Thomas "Mr. B" McBurnett, who owns Yesteryear Jewelers, a five-year tenant, said he has heard a buyer who owns other mall properties is supposed to take over after the first of the year.
"They should know what they're doing," he said.
Jessica Reese, who owns the salon and spa Pynk, moved into the mall in August.
She said she moved into the space because she was able to get a large space at a good price, and she hopes others will follow suit.
Tamie Grookett, who owns a photography studio on the lower level near the food court, said she hopes when the mall gets new owners they will keep the rent at reasonable levels because she loves the space she is in.
"If I won the lottery, I'd buy the mall," she said.
Doc's moves to Rosewood
Doc's Gumbo Grille plans to reopen Jan. 2 in a new location in Rosewood, serving up its Cajun cuisine. But don't expect to hear your favorite band there.
Owner Doug Goolsby said he will bring in some acoustic acts to the new restaurant at 3830 Rosewood Drive, in the Jim Casey's Fireworks complex - but the ceilings are too low for bands.
"It would be a little too loud," he said.
Customers will find the same food they were used to at the Vista location that closed in October, including gumbo, shrimp Creole, salads, sandwiches, burgers and she-crab soup. Much of the staff also will be the same.
Goolsby said the 2,600-square-foot building is slightly larger than the Assembly Street restaurant, with a bar separate from the dining room.
The new Doc's will be open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.
- All things South Carolina are sold at the new virtual store recently opened by the Sandlapper Society, a nonprofit educational organization. You can find products as varied as locally made salad dressing, Scrabble-piece jewelry made by a Camdenite and a palmetto tree business card holder. Through the end of the year, all shoppers will get the members' discount. Shop at sandlapper.org
- Cottage & Vine, 4600 Forest Drive, now is selling Theodosia handcrafted jewelry, made by a Charleston-based designer. The store also is staying open until 7 p.m. each Thursday through Christmas Eve.
- Verizon Wireless' Cellular Sales recently opened a new store at 5401 Forest Drive.