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 Statehouse. Although often described as having a Midtown location, RIO MALL was technically in the city's Bedford-Pine district. In 2005, this area was renamed SoNo -"South of North (Avenue)"- a gentrified, more hip-sounding, heading.

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 three hundred and fifty 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 twenty-five 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 were at odds over the developer's desire to include commercial advertisements with Videowall imagery. The issue was eventually settled...there would be no ads.

RIO MALL was officially dedicated in September 1988. 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 during 1989; 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. By mid-1990, its sales were ringing up disappointingly. 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 (which took the vacant Coyote Cafe spot), Peking Dragon II, 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 October 1, 1998.

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

As its replacement, a 52,400 square foot strip complex -PUBLIX AT PIEDMONT- was built on a 3.5 acre section. Anchored by a (27,800 square foot) Publix minimarket, it also housed a (15,100 square foot) Walgreen Drug and 9,400 square feet of inline store spaces. The remaining half of the mall site was filled by the three hundred and fifty-one unit Savannah Midtown Apartments. The new Publix store was dedicated June 7, 2001.

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