The developers of the Aiken Mall announced big plans for the property during Monday night's "State of the City" address.

Phase I of the redevelopment calls for 256 luxury apartments, and future plans call for an upscale hotel as well as retail and dining establishments.

Described as Class A apartments, meaning that the developer will ask for market rate or better, the news capped a night in which Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon outlined the city's many accomplishments.

"It really is our time, isn't it?" Osbon teased before introducing Vic Mills, CEO of the Southeastern Development Associates.

Mills said the idea to change the mall into an apartment complex came through market research that stated that the "number one multifamily community" development in Aiken is the Colony at South Park along Whiskey Road, which Southeastern developed over 30 year ago.

"If it worked once, it will work again," Mills said. 

Mills described the project as the "first major commitment of the mall" that will have "A+ apartments."

The investment in the apartments alone is more than $30 million, and construction is expected to begin this year.

The same architects who will assist with this project also built the WaterWalk at Shelter Cove Towne Centre in Hilton Head Island, Mills said. 

"We've gone to the top, and we couldn't be more excited," Mills said. "We've done a lot a lot of research, and got a lot of support by a lot of people."

According to the current development plan submitted by Southeastern, the three-story apartment complex will offer up to 256 apartments consisting of mostly one- and two-bedroom units with some three-bedroom apartments as well.  

The Aiken Mall has gone back and forth with development and demolition talks as early as 2016, with no external process taking place. 

Currently, most of the space in the Aiken Mall is unoccupied, with only Belk and Books-A-Million remaining open. Belk's will be allowed to remain after the demolition and Books-A-Million "wants" to remain, Mills said.

Jason Long, vice president of  Southeastern Development Associates, said they hope the project will be a "catalyst for more to come."

"This is the largest major investment," Long said. "We plan to make more announcements this year." 

City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said the city has a "desperate need for Class A apartments.”

“This project is going to help fill that need,” Bedenbaugh said.

The demolition of the mall is set to begin around early to late summer, said Long. The completion date of the apartment complex is projected to be late 2021 to early 2022.

Honorable mentions

Osbon took a moment to recognize two individuals for their community service in Aiken. 

William "Bill" M. McGhee Jr. was recognized for his work with renovating old houses in the community.

McGhee said afterwards that he was "definitely surprised" for the honor and surprised his family kept it a secret for so long.

"I knew nothing about it – look how I'm dressed," McGhee joked after the address.

Lionel "Smitty" Smith was honored for his business ethics that has inspired the community for decades.

Smith has owned and operated the Lionel Smith Limited apparel shop on Laurens Street since March 1976. The store specializes in selling men's apparel for "any occassion."

Osbon, as well as Smith's family, described him as a true business man with a big heart.

Osbon joked during the presentation that Smith was the one who taught him how to tie a bow tie. 

Osbon and City Council members also recognized the 70th anniversary of the Savannah River Site.

Osbon also took a moment to honor two fallen members of the city: Aiken Fire Department employee Chief Charlie Cupp, who passed away in April 2019, and utilities employee James "Lightning" Collier who passed away earlier this month.