Glass shattered at the end of an excavator’s mechanical claw as one era of business in Forest Acres ended and another began on Thursday morning.

Demolition on the massive, hulking and empty Richland Mall at the intersection of Forest Drive and Beltline Boulevard started around 10:30 a.m. as a crowd of area residents gathered across the street to watch and drones flew overhead to capture the action.

The claw pierced the window of one of the mall’s former entrances and frames of glass shattered and fell. It was the first move on the way to the mall’s new incarnation as an open-air, mixed-use complex first announced in November 2022 with a $100 million redevelopment plan handled by Southeastern Development of Augusta.

Onlookers watch the beginning of the end of Richland Mall. (Photo/Christina Lee Knauss)
Onlookers watch the beginning of the end of Richland Mall. (Photo/Christina Lee Knauss)

Officials with Southeastern estimate demolition of the mall’s 930,000 square feet of concrete structure will take about a year.

Plans for the site call for a 32-acre, mixed-use property to include retail, a brewery or tap room, green space, a grocery and apartments. The city of Forest Acres also purchased six acres of land behind the mall as part of the redevelopment deal and has plans to put a large park there.

Forest Acres city officials and others are happy about the new plans for the site, with many hoping it brings not only economic success but a new, vibrant addition to the lifestyle of residents in the rapidly growing city.

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“Forest Drive and Beltline is a crossroads for the residents of Forest Acres and really for all of Richland County,” said Forest Acres Mayor Thomas Andrews. “Its redevelopment is a generational opportunity for Forest Acres. It will not only grow economic opportunities, but the entire development as well as the park Forest Acres is planning will create spaces for community and gathering. The demolition of the mall is the first step toward the property’s revitalization.”

Plans for a multi-use complex bring back memories of the mall’s first incarnation, when it was opened as an open-air shopping plaza in 1961. Until 1987, it was home to a branch of the now-defunct J.B. White department store, a Woolworth’s, a grocery store, and many other shops including the first incarnation of the iconic Happy Bookseller shop which was a Forest Acres fixture until its closure in 2008.

The mall was then enclosed and from 1988 to 1996 did business as Richland Fashion Mall, home to anchor high-end department stores like Bonwit Teller and Parisian. The concept eventually didn’t last, however, and in 1996 the mall’s name switched back to Richland Mall.

The mall played host to a variety of stores, restaurants and businesses over the past 20 years, but traffic continued to dwindle. Its last two anchors closed — a Belk department store in September 2023 and Barnes & Noble booksellers earlier this year. Barnes & Noble reopened in February at a new site on Garners Ferry Road.

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