Site of once-thriving South Carolina outlet mall on I-95 is up for sale

May 9, 2017

SANTEE — A shopping mall along Interstate 95 is up for auction.

The Santee Outlet Mall at 1500 Village Square Boulevard and adjoining acreage is up for auction with the starting bid of $600,000.

Online bidding for the property will begin May 23. The bidding will start at noon and end May 25 at 1 p.m. unless automatically extended by late bids. Georgia-based SVN/Interstate Auction Co. is handling the auction and sale.

According to the auction website, the property is touted as ideal for development, possibly for warehouse and distribution, though a retail use would also be possible.

The property has I-95 frontage as well as CSX rail access. It includes three billboards.

The location is touted as being in the county-trademarked Global Logistics Triangle, just north of the newly enhanced U.S. 301 and I-95 interchange and close to the Charleston and Savannah seaports.

The mall, which opened in November 1988 as Santee Village Square, was placed on the market three years ago with a price tag of $4.6 million. The mall’s original sale price was $7 million.

A mailer advertising the auction lists the opening bid as low as $600,000.

The 40-acre property, off Exit 98 on I-95, contains 152,550 feet of retail space.

The upcoming auction is the latest news of a once-thriving outlet mall that has slowly crept toward demise.

Constructed in the 1980s, the Santee Outlet Mall was the happening place.

Santee Mayor Donnie Hilliard recalled the mall being built and the excitement surrounding its potential.

“In its heyday, it was one of the most productive outlet malls on Interstate 95,” Hilliard said, noting it was booming in the middle 1980s. “People would travel from North Carolina and Georgia and they would pass through and stop.”

Initial plans were to house 50 to 60 factory outlet stores in the mall, with projections of 200 to 300 employees.

Hilliard said even if people were not passing through, they would make it their journey’s end to visit the mall.

“It brought a lot of people into the town and it gives other potential investors a comfort level of making investments,” Hilliard said.

A security guard does his rounds at the Santee Outlets Mall in 2003. Around that time, it had 25 active stores and about as many vacancies. Staff/File

Area businessman and Realtor Pat Williams says he was one of the catalysts for helping to bring the mall to the Santee area.

“I met some gentlemen at a travel show in Suffern, New York, and they were interested in coming to the Santee area,” Williams recalled. “They bought that site because it had a long frontage on the interstate.”

He said when the mall was built, it had 68 stores on the first floor and about five on the second floor.

“Once the mall was completed, they had all but three stores rented to major names in the outlet mall circle,” Williams said. “It was off and running.”

Over the years, stores occupying the space included Van Heusen/Bass, American Tourister, Kitchen Collection, Gitano, Kids Port USA, Royal Doulton, Jonathan Logan, Campus Wear, Corning Glassware, Fieldcrest, Leggs/Hanes/Bali, Oneida and Revere Ware.

When Herman Lischkoff purchased Santee Outlet Mall in 2002, it had 25 active stores and 24 vacancies. After Hendersonville, N.C.-based women’s apparel store Bon Worth closed in August 2013, only one business, an independently owned antique store, remained in the mall.

Currently, Ingrid’s I&M Antiques & Collectibles remains as the mall’s sole occupant. A call placed to store owner was answered by “we are going out of business” and then a disconnect.

The person who answered a call to Lischkoff’s office with Herlis Realty Co. northeast of Atlanta said contact the auction company for more information.

The old Santee Outlet Mall property runs along I-95. Provided/Interstate Auction

The downturn in the economy and increasing lackluster sales performance over the years have continued the mall’s downward spiral. The national trend of increasing online retail sales is also blamed on the outlet’s decline.

But Williams said there is more to the story, noting the mall’s promotion director ended up moving back to New York and over time the developers became absentee owners.

“There was nobody on the site on top of the daily activities,” Williams said. “It slowly but surely lost tenants that were in there that did not renew their leases. It started downhill like a snowball. They lost tenants and they were not replaced.”

Williams said one of the problems was that the mall was built upon a blueprint that was ideal for New York, but not necessarily for South Carolina.

He said another problem was the mall being built with store backs toward I-95.

“They put the back of the stores to the interstate instead of having the back of the mall open so people could see people passing by and walking and seeing the store fronts,” he said. “It would have been so much better, but like we all say, ‘Hindsight is 20/20.’”

Hilliard agrees.

“I think another factor was the way our mall was designed,” he said. “It took away from its appeal once other malls came about.”

He said the mall was also difficult to get to from Interstate 95. So when other malls came about, shoppers looked for easy accessibility.

Though the mall is not in the town limits of Santee, Hilliard said the town does provide utility services.

Williams says he does not understand why the mall has “seen its demise” because other outlet malls along I-95 “are booming.”