In 2014, the city of Charleston created a proposal to redevelop Citadel Mall, creating a downtown for West Ashley by removing portions of the existing mall and adding retail, housing and office spaces, as well as parks and outdoor spaces.
Richard Davis, who had his eye on Citadel Mall since 2010, was concerned; he and his wife, Ginger, had big plans for the shopping center, if they could manage to get their hands on it.
“We know it as the most underutilized piece of real estate in Charleston, and we don’t even look at it as a mall, even though it is,” Ginger Davis said. “It will evolve into a mixed use. We like to think of it as a district.”
When Trademark Properties, the Davises’ company, acquired the mall in February 2017 for $17 million, the couple got to work, fleshing out their plans to make Citadel Mall “the place to be and be seen,” he said.
One of the largest pieces of the plan is a nine-story parking garage with an event space on the top floor where basketball showcases, esports tournaments and other large-scale events could be held.
“It’s your high school gym times 12,” Richard Davis said.
Davis said the basketball court that currently sits in the middle of the mall is just a “hood ornament” to show people what’s to come and allow groups to put on demonstrations. The full space, when completed, will have room for 12 basketball courts, 48 pickleball games or 24 volleyball games, he said.
“The point is it’s not a basketball facility,” he said. “It’s an event facility that literally every night that piece of (basketball court) wood goes up and gets stored, and then the next thing” comes in, whether it’s a concert, presentation or other large-scale event.
“In Charleston, believe it or not, we think we’re big-time ... but we don’t have the venues that are big enough,” Davis said. “And so places like MUSC and Boeing and Volvo, they don’t have places to accommodate events. So the way to make this work is multipurpose.”
The space will also be able to be broken up with movable partitions so that multiple events can use the space simultaneously.
Davis said another big appeal of the new construction is that it will attract attention as people pass the mall on U.S. Highway 17 or Interstate 526.
Currently, “You almost have to drive dangerously to see it (the mall) through the pine trees,” he said. “You’ve got to look, try to look in between. And you can see it, there’s nothing going on there, so nothing’s going to draw your attention. ... But when I put this on that backside against 526, now I got a basically nine-story billboard that can tell any story you want it to.”
The Davises declined to discuss costs and dimensions for the project because they’re still in the midst of planning, but they said they would announce more details in the near future.
“We were ready to start putting all the documents together for that when we found out that we were going to get Sears,” Ginger Davis said. “So now we’re kind of adjusting that because we can do more with this site now.”
Trademark Properties purchased the Sears department store space earlier this year for $7.55 million. The Davises declined to comment on what might go into the space; the department store is having a final sale and will close in August.
Ginger Davis said one thing that stood out in her research of West Ashley is that 84% of the area’s residents work in other parts of the Charleston metro region, according to a demographic study done in conjunction with Charleston’s West Ashley revitalization plan.
Citadel Mall, however, is one of the larger employment centers keeping people in the area.
“A lot of developers that looked at it (the mall) wanted to tear it down,” Davis said. “It was really important to us to maintain the employment that was here, grow it and bring better opportunities to the area at the same time.”
One way to grow job opportunities, Richard Davis said, was to get one of downtown Charleston’s largest employers — the Medical University of South Carolina — to add a location in West Ashley.
“You look out the food court in the parking lot and you’d see about 250 cars out there in front of the CARTA stop,” Richard Davis said, referring to the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority. “Not people coming up close shopping. ... It doesn’t make sense — why would they park all the way out there? Well, it was 250 cars every morning going to MUSC.”
Davis said he was already in talks with MUSC to build a freestanding space in part of the mall parking lot when J.C. Penney Co. closed and sold its space to Trademark Properties for $5.13 million. Although MUSC already had building plans in the works, Davis said, he offered them a lease of the former J.C. Penney space instead.
MUSC announced late last year that it will transform the former department store into a musculoskeletal health care facility; that facility is expected to open within the next two years.
Davis said he’s bringing in untraditional tenants because he’s not trying to directly compete with online retailers such as Amazon; instead, he’s more focused on consumers’ experience.
“We’re not trying to win that retail battle,” he said. “This is a great location of dirt, sticks and bricks. If you give people the right experience and right reason to come here that they can’t get online, then they’re going to come here. And oh, by the way, then the retailers are going to benefit.”
The Davises said that as foot traffic increases, Citadel Mall will also have a better chance of attracting national retailers that may not currently be interested in Charleston. And Ginger Davis said she’s also focused on finding space for local retailers and restaurants.
“I think it’s really good to have a good mix, to still have that local feel here,” Davis said. “My personal take on malls is that they got so institutionalized that everything was just stamped out all over the country, and we would like to have some uniqueness to it and what makes Charleston great.”