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, 1.5 miles northeast of the Georgia Statehouse. Although often described as having a Midtown location, RIO MALL was technically in the 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 and 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 and 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

17 comments:

  1. Too bad the mall died, even as a culture-focused center.

    What would've been cool is to transform the block into some sort of urban park...reconfigure parts of the structure to allow for park offices and classrooms, leave the frogs and dome intact, and demolish parking for green space.

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  2. Died, indeed.

    Atlanta, that "4-millioned madhouse" of a city, has become rather notorious for being too busy to be bothered with its history...especially architecture-wise.

    RIO MALL should not have been torn down...plain and simple. Of course, at the time (the big boom before the bust) early 2000s, the land was considered too potentially lucrative to sit idle...or -at least- sitting not making as much money as was desired.

    So...a unique and interesting little pop art mall bites the dust and is replaced with the most UNINTERESTING strip center imaginable...and some more apartments (as if there weren't already enough).

    Way to go Atlanta.....

    Thanks for posting, HAPPY HOLIDAYS

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  3. The pics I've seen of the gold frogs are amazing. Hopefully I can find one of the video wall. Bottom line: no matter how many awards Rio won, or how pop culture kitsch it was viewed as, it was deemed a failure because it wasn't making money. That's the American way! Capitalism over creative expression of art. Now if the art's making $$$, that's another story entirely.

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  4. I agree. Atlanta is a worst-case example of unecessary obsolescence...as the destruction of this mall proves...

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  5. The place was too small and the line-up too lacking in uniqueness to make it as a mall. The location was disconnected from anything else, including the Bedford-Pine apartments. Perhaps it could have been turned into something else, but Atlanta is a place of little imagination for such things. It was dead when I moved there and the Publix was much welcomed by people in the area.

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  6. How true. Thanks much for posting.

    Cheers

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  7. There was a guy named Joe (from Connecticut?) who worked at Moovie around 1997. Man, I had a crush on him.... does anyone know where he is?

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  8. I remeber the Army Recruiting station located on Where the front of and Cashier area of Publix is now today. Also I remeber going there getting ready to process into the Army lokking around all the different things Like the hat shop and Even Chris tucker comedy club which was on the second floor on what's now on the Walgreens side. I came back yrs later to work security there in 2005.

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  9. Ricco,

    Due to a Blogger malfunction, I find that you published this comment a week or so ago.

    Anyway, here it is...better late than ever, I guess.

    Cheers

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  10. There was also a Coconuts records/music store there around 1989-1990( their prices was much more than our local Turtles music store)So, it's no wonder it did not last.

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  11. Anon,

    Thanks for perusing and posting on the site. Hope you're having a great weekend.

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  12. I remember this place when I was in Pharmacy school in the late 80's. We ate at the "Lettuce surprise you" all the time. Had some good times there back in the day. Was sorry to see it demolished:(

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  13. I regret that I never once walked into this place....I remember driving by it.

    I didn't think it would have such a short "shelf life"...

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  14. Anyone know where one might get one of the frogs?

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  15. I don't know...but I'd like to have one of them...

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  16. I don't know...but I'd love to have one of them....

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