Local developer Richard Davis is attempting to slam-dunk one of the most vexing problems faced by suburban America: What are we going to do about our dead mall?

All across the country, shopping malls have come to the end of their commercial lifespan and communities are struggling to figure out what to do next with the hulking buildings. Several factors have contributed to their demise: the Great Recession, over-building, natural economic cycles, online shopping.

Some communities have literally purchased dead malls, turning them into high schools, community center, libraries, and the like. But no one, it seems has hit on the best solution on how to rebirth a mall into a once-again vibrant commercial center.

Citadel Mall has been in trouble for years, being handed from owner to creditor to banker to last-chance management companies. Kiosks that once stood in the hallways took over empty storefronts, even though they didn’t have enough product to fill but a fraction of the floorspace.

Competition grew intense as “big-box” development seemed like a dinosaur, especially with three other shopping center doing bang-up business within 10-mile radiuses.

Enter Davis, a James Island-born scrapper who came up the hard way in a tough family situation that didn’t come close to dimming his ambition. This spring, Davis and some unnamed investors purchased the mall for a sliver of its last selling price, and embarked an especially ambitious plan to return it to viability.

Davis earned national attention in the last decade when he launched his own self-produced cable TV show “Flip This House,” which virtually launched a genre of television that Bob Vila could have only dreamed of.

When Davis snared the mall, which he’d been stalking for the better part of seven years, there was grumbling locally that maybe he was not the developer that local powerbroker and politicians wanted to recast the mall.

They worried, loudly enough to be heard even by a small weekly paper covering West Ashley, that Davis may try to merely “flip the mall,” by opting some simple superficial gussying up, and hanging on until Interstate 526 was completed, and then selling high as the value of the property soared.

Boy, were they wrong. Dead. Wrong.

Davis’s group has done anything but sit on their hands, instead they seem to be applying a full-court press, having launched a plan to turn the mall into a national youth sports competition destination. And recently they purchased the closed JCPenny store and its parking swath outside.

That national chain — just like Belk, Dillard’s, Sears, and Target – owned their respective building and its “pad” at the mall. Rumors abound that Davis is trying behind the scenes to also purchase the Sears building, though he would not comment on it.

Earlier this year, Davis attended a national seminar on what to do about failing malls. And what he say was a series of failed ideas. So he started to think outside of the box. Some would say WAAAAAY outside the box.

For years Davis has run TMP, a national-
level youth travel basketball program that has seen its alums make it big in NCAA Div. 1 teams, as well as in the pros. TMP is taken from the name of his local real estate company, Trademark Properties, which sponsored the organization.

And like competitors, parents, coaches, and organizers committed to travel ball, that has meant at times traveling to tournaments in out-of-the-way spots and playing in less than ideal facilities.

So he came up with his solution, which could either fail or it could become a national model of what to do with deal malls: construct a several-story wedge building between two of the national anchor stores with several levels of covered parking, topped off by a high-ceilinged final floor covered by 12 basketball courts.

Davis would then market the facility as a destination for travel team tournaments on weekends, drawing dozens of tens, hundreds of families … and their wallets.

Davis argues that Citadel Mall’s biggest problem is not location, location, location, but foot traffic, foot traffic, foot traffic.

“I see myself as a ‘foot-traffic controller,’” he says, only half-jokingly.

He foresees a revamped Citadel Mall where tournaments will pack the mall on weekends, imaginative reuse of space in the moribund stores and anchor spots will bolster business during the day 9 to 5, and practices for local basketball and volleyball teams would bring additional foot traffic during weekday evenings.

Additionally, it takes about two hours to take up a basketball court, meaning the new space could be used for concerts. Unlike a tennis-based multi-use stadium on Daniel Island, Davis’s space wouldn’t be affected by weather.

Davis remains cagey about the full plans, saying he was at least four more weeks away from a complete unveiling of the master plan. But, he did say he wanted to create a new Citadel Mall that would welcome new business and attention, while at the same time “taking care of” the existing stores that stick with him through the transformation.

Davis is not the only one envisioning the Lowcountry as a travel ball and youth sports mecca. Work has been underway for months for a similar effort in Mt. Pleasant, but for baseball. Shipyard Park is under construction to build five AstroTurf fields and a massive indoor training facility along the banks of the Wando River next to the new Hwy. 41 bridge there.

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