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Citadel Mall is the largest shopping center in the Charleston region. The Sears store (right) closed in August 2018 following the departure of J.C. Penney (upper middle) in the summer of 2017. The owners of the interior of the mall also own the former J.C. Penney site and the Sears site. Dillard's, Belk and Target (lower middle to left) own their properties independently of the rest of the mall. Investors in the former shuttered parts of the mall plan to redevelop the site and the outlying parking lots into a mix of uses called Epic Center. File/Staff

Citadel Mall, the largest in the Charleston region, opened to great fanfare nearly four decades ago, with big-name retailers and loads of shoppers flocking to its 1.1 million square feet.

The indoor retail center was all the rage, as customers could step from store to store browsing at window displays, catch a bite to eat at the numerous offerings of the food court or just walk with friends in a climate-controlled environment.

"This mall proves that Charleston is alive," former mayor Joe Riley said during an opening celebration in July 1981. "This terrific, dynamic development is a sign of the progress of the strength of the city of Charleston."

Nearly 40 years later, the interim advent of the internet shifted shopping habits away from brick-and-mortar shops to click-and-order purchases from the comfort of home computers and smartphones.

National retailers fled, including big-name department stores such as Sears and J.C Penney, leaving hulking empty anchors on the wings and other empty storefronts on the interior of the massive shopping center.

Stepping in to fill the void in what was once West Ashley's premier retail destination was a group of Charleston investors with a vision to redevelop the mall and its unused parking lots into a mix of uses.

Now, those plans are taking a step forward for the first time in about 30 months.

Investors have homed in on Epic Center as the name for the site, using a moniker that evokes not only the central focus of the West Ashley neighborhood, or epicenter, but a vision for a reworked plan on a grandiose scale.

Citadel Mall redevelopment plan

The owners of about half of Citadel Mall want to redevelop the parking areas (shaded buildings) into a mix of uses, including hotels, offices, residential and commercial businesses such as a grocery store. Redevelopment does not include Dillard's, Belk or Target, which each own their properties at the mall. HBO is leasing the former Sears store to produce a new comedy series. Provided/Gensler

Futuristic plans show large-scale development around the mall with multistory buildings and a mix of uses.

"We think it's going to be epic," said Richard Davis of Trademark Properties, who is the lead investor in Citadel Mall. "This is like the doughnut hole somebody forgot. It's right in the center of the growing Charleston area, and it's convenient to everything."

On Wednesday, the investors, led by Davis, will ask the city's Planning Commission to rezone about 53 acres from general business use to a planned-unit development, which will allow multiple uses on the site.

Those multi-year plans include hotels, residential units, offices, a grocer, recreation and parking decks on much of the outlying parking area surrounding the sprawling mall.

"A PUD gives you flexibility," Davis said, referring to the zoning. "We will have multiple uses to build a new community, but I'm not going to dictate which one goes first. We will put out a request for proposals to see what the market says."

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One of the large empty spaces is already under redevelopment while the other is under temporary use for a television series.

The Medical University of South Carolina is upfitting the former two-story J.C. Penney building into an outpatient facility. It's expected to open in December, a move Davis believes will inject new interest into the retail center.

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A redevelopment plan is in the works for Citadel Mall in West Ashley. File/Staff

Meanwhile, cable TV channel HBO leased the former Sears space for production of a new comedy series called "The Righteous Gemstones." It's about a fictional, dysfunctional Gemstone family of televangelists.

Davis said the TV lease emerged from the idea of including a future production facility in part of the former mall as agents scout the area for future filming sites.

He also noted that the redevelopment proposal doesn't require bulldozing a forest and is an infill project "to make use of existing dirt and max it out."

Redevelopment plans do not include the entire shopping center. Belk, Dillard's and Target own their respective footprints, parking lots and buildings at Citadel Mall.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524. Follow him on Twitter @warrenlancewise.