RIO SHOPPING CENTER
Piedmont and North Avenues, North East
Atlanta, Georgia


Atlanta's RIO SHOPPING CENTER, or "RIO MALL", was built on a 7 acre plot, located 1.5 miles northeast of the Georgia State House, at the northwestern edge of the city's Old North Ward district. 

Developed by Atlanta's Charles Ackerman & Company, the 250,000 square foot, community-sized complex was designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica, with landscaping done by San Francisco's Martha Schwartz.

The open-air center consisted of 2 levels of retail, surrounding a large, partially-covered Center Court and Water Basin. Placed at regular intervals in the Basin were most of the mall's 350 gold frogs. These faced a 40-foot-high geodesic dome structure, made of white metal tubing, which doubled as a mist fountain.

A square island area on the opposite end of the Court included bamboo planters and the Rio Videowall. Created by New York City's Dara Birnbaum, it consisted of 25 TV screens, arranged in a 5 x 5 fashion. A motion detector mechanism, activated by shoppers, would blend video images of the original -undeveloped- mall site with content from Atlanta's Cable News Network and feeds from several security cameras located throughout the complex.

Before the mall was completed, Birnbaum and Ackerman & Company had a major disagreement. The developer wanted to include commercial advertisements with Videowall imagery, an idea that was opposed by Ms. Birnbaum. The issue was eventually settled...there would be no ads.

RIO MALL was officially dedicated on April 29, 1989. Original stores and services included Benetton, Camp Beverly Hills, Enrico's, High Country Outfitters, Carmine's, Coyote Cafe, Patio Hut Cafe, Wolf Camera, Tic-Tac-Toe T-shirts and The Crab House.

The shopping center, described as kitsch and quirky, was bequeathed several prestigious awards. These included the Atlanta Urban Design Commission's "Award of Excellence in Architecture", Atlanta Magazine's "Best Architectural Statement" and the American Society of Landscape Architects "Merit Award".

Nevertheless, RIO MALL failed to catch on with the buying public. The retail hub was controversial from the start. Moreover, its overall sales were disappointing. In January 1993, the First National Bank of Boston foreclosed on the property. It was purchased by Atlanta architect Walter R. Davis.

A new direction was taken in an attempt to remarket the mall as an upscale arts, crafts and cultural center. New tenants were signed, such as the 3rd Act Melody Room and Musical Revue, Peking Dragon II restaurant, Urban Art Gallery, Atlanta Bread Company, I Love Juicy, Lettuce Souprise You Salad Restaurant and Moovies Outlet Video Rental. The Chris Tucker Comedy Cafe opened for business on October 1, 1998.

Alas, this new direction went nowhere. In October 1999, the virtually vacant complex was sold to a consortium of the Saint Petersburg, Florida-based Sembler Company and Dallas-based Lincoln Property Company. Remaining tenants were given eviction notices, effective as of March 1, 2000. RIO MALL was unceremoniously demolished in June and July of the same year.

The failed urban shopping center was replaced by PUBLIX AT PIEDMONT, a 52,400 square foot strip complex. Built on 3.5 acres of the RIO MALL site, it was anchored by a (27,800 square foot) Publix minimarket. 

PUBLIX AT PIEDMONT also housed a (15,100 square foot) Walgreen Drug and 9,400 square feet of inline store space. The new Publix store was dedicated June 7, 2001. The remainder of the site was redeveloped as the Savannah Midtown Apartments, a 351-unit residential complex.

Sources:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Daily News Record / February 1993 / Brenda Lloyd

http://www.med.emory.edu/CME/partic/shopping.html / Shopping In Atlanta
http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/E/htmlE/experimental.htm
http://www.marthaschwartz.com/projects/rio_details.html
www.sembler.com
www.mail-archive.com